Corey Jones

I love when interviews sometimes bring out unexpected connections. Take this week’s guest, Corey Jones. As creative director at Forum One, Corey specializes in branding, animation, and interactive design. But as you’ll find out from our conversation, he got his start from a Black design studio we featured back in 2016! It’s a small world!

Corey and I talked at length about his work at Forum One, and he shared his story of growing up outside of Pittsburgh and studying design in college. We also talked about his early career, his YouTube channel, creative burnout, and his line of barbecue sauce with his twin brother. Corey is proof that with hard work and determination, you can make a career out of creativity for yourself!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Corey Jones:
Well, hello, I’m Corey Jones. I’m a creative director. I do visual design, and I’m curious creator. At work, I do a little bit of everything, so I’m in motion design industry, but I’m also doing interactive design for web experiences. It runs the gamut. But right now, I’m a creative director at Forum One.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the summer been going for you so far?

Corey Jones:
So far, summer’s good. The past couple days have been really, really, really hot, but I’m actually in the process of moving to a different part of New Jersey and so I’m been doing that. But the summer’s great. I got the chance to spend some time with my family not too long ago. And it’s been a while since I had seen them, and so it was great to get back to Pennsylvania, which is where I’m from.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What do you have coming up these next few months? Aside from the move, I should mention.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, well, aside from the move, I’m doing some work with my brother and thinking about what we’re going to do with the sauce. We’ll talk about that later, but what’s the next stage in Jones’en Barbecue. That’s something I’m looking forward to. But just outside of that, we’ve got a lot of great projects coming up. I’m excited to dive into those.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about Forum One. First of all, what is Forum One? And two, just let me know what your experience has been like there so far.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so I work at Forum One. I’m the creative director there now. I started out as a senior interaction designer when I started there. But Forum One is a agency, their mission is dedicated to working with mission driven organizations; we have a some government clients there as well. But a lot of our work is centered around working with organizations that are making an impact in the world. And it’s one of the things that intrigued me and drew me to it, it was because it was a place that had a bigger mission. And something like that, as a designer, I found that to be very inspiring.
And so far, I’ve been there for oh a little over… Many years, I’ll say. I can’t even keep track. It might be seven years by now. But I’ve been there, and it’s been a great experience. I’ve been able to progress a lot faster here than I was able to at other places. And I found it to be a very supportive culture where I’ve got the opportunity to work on some really, really big projects.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a regular day look like for you there?

Corey Jones:
I get this question all the time, and people ask me, what’s my routine? “What’s your day like?” And I like to really control my daily routine. And I’ll explain that a little bit more, is I had this routine… And I’ve been actually doing this for years, even before Forum One. I like to come in every morning… Well, when I used to go into the office. I do this at home remote now full time, but I do the same thing. I come into the office or my office space and I don’t check email, I don’t check Slack or any messages first thing in the morning. I like to take that time where it’s the most quiet part of my day and just look at inspiration. I might do a tutorial because you never stopped learning. I dedicated that quiet space to writing positive influences, positive inputs, inspiration. And I just like to spend that time with myself, maybe even meditate. That’s something I’ve been doing more recently just to clear my head. And I found that that’s really made me a much clearer thinker, a much sharper creative. That’s my routine.
Now, as the day progresses, and you might know this as well, when you’re in the thick of it in the agency world, you start to get the pings from the emails later in the day, and so I try to just approach my day very organized. I organize my calendar at the end of the week each week, and then I think about the week ahead.
And the first thing I do after, say, about 10:00, 11:00, I’ll usually have some meetings. We have a pretty big meeting culture at Forum One so you’ve got to really be mindful of that and make sure you’re balancing out your calendar. And all in all, it’s a pretty chill place in terms of some of the other places I’ve been where you’re really in this hustle and grind. There’s a lot more balance, I find, at Forum One.
And so my day is spent either in the thick of it, designing, working, or working with other designers. I spend a lot of time mentoring the younger designers on the team. And I have these check-in times with them two times a week. And anybody can book this time with me, and I’ll review their work, help them with their career. I do a lot of different things as a Forum One mentor at the agency.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk a little bit more about the makeup of your team. You mentioned these younger designers that you’re working with. What does the team look like?

Corey Jones:
At Forum One, we’re split where we have designers that are part of the strategy team, and they’re mostly focused on brand identity brand strategy. And so we have designers there, but we also have a core web team that’s focused on interactive design. And I sit as an in between those two groups. A lot of my work in my career has been branding, brand development, so I work across the different departments.
Our interactive team is really a combination of user experience designers, UX researchers, and visual designers, kind of like product designers who focus mostly on web. And so there’s probably about, I think… Oh, how many of this are there now? Probably maybe 15, so we have a pretty good size team overall. But our divisions, our departments run the gamut from anything from strategy, branding, motion graphics. Animation is something new we’re doing now, and then web and interactive.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like a pretty big team overall.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, it’s pretty big team.

Maurice Cherry:
If you’ve got all these separate teams and they’re doing this different work, when a new project comes in, what does your creative process look like? Walk me through that.

Corey Jones:
We have a centralized resourcing department that really works closely with the managers and the department leads, and so I work very closely with that team to figure out who is working on what. And a lot of this stuff is actually handled by our VP of design because my role is a unique role in the sense it’s not like a traditional creative director role where I have to oversee everything. Each of our designers gets assigned a project, and it’s usually based on their interest and… their role and interest. And so my creative process is, really, I get assigned projects where I’m either the lead as far as design, maybe I might be leading some of the design or I might be working with another designer where I’m an art director, creative director working with another designer. Are you thinking walking through the actual process for our project? I can do that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah. Say there’s a new client that you get or there’s a new campaign that you have to work on. What does the process look like when you’re talking about it with your team and everything?

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so a lot of times we’ll start off with having a creative brief. A lot of times, there’s a lot of key discovery that happens before we even get assigned a project. Usually when a project comes through, we’ll have a big team meeting. All the key players who are assigned to the project will be in that first initial meeting. And this is an internal meeting. You would have your developer who might be on the project. And this could be front end and back end developer. You’ve got your project lead. You might have somebody from the strategy team. You’ll have a user experience designer, a visual designer, and then sometimes myself in addition to those, as well as a team lead or a creative director. And when that comes in, we really go through the scope of work. We look at all of the things that the client is looking for, and then we start planning when we’re going to have key discovery workshops where we go in and work with the client.
And the outcome of a discovery workshop really is where we actually… That’s where it really starts. We then would put together a creative brief. And this is really just a guiding document that we all follow that really highlights some of the things we learned in discovery, the goals of the project. And really, at that stage, we’re all figuring out how we’re going to work together, what areas that I’m going to focus on versus others.
And then we we all go our separate ways for a little while, and then we set up key review check-ins where we all come back together. Because there’s a lot of different things in the beginning that are happening, that could be happening. Say it’s a web project, for example. We’re going to have user experience that’s going to be doing interviews. They’re going to be learning all about the project from the client, but they’re also going to be interviewing the potential users, really gathering all that data that visual designers would then use to design to.

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

Corey Jones:
There’s a lot of pressure in being a designer to always have ideas. And you’re working on so many different things at any given time, and there’s a pressure, there’s a pressure to always deliver, always be original, always have a new idea. And I think the biggest challenge is really making sure that you’re able to stay inspired and stay motivated to keep generating these ideas sometimes really fast timelines. That’s probably the biggest challenge, but I think that I’ve developed ways to overcome that, ways to work through it so that it hasn’t been as a big of a challenge in the last few years as it has been in the past. But I think that’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you normally have pretty fast deadlines for projects?

Corey Jones:
We’ve actually gotten a lot better. It’s not as much now. We have fast turnaround. And I say fast turnaround, typical project at Forum One is going to be a couple months. We’re working on large web builds. But those review cycles might be faster depending on… It really depends on the client, so if it’s for a conference or something big coming up, then we got faster timelines. Overall, I would say that it’s not completely chaotic.

Maurice Cherry:
Like you said, you’ve been at Forum One now for about seven years, so you’ve really come up through the ranks and seen how, not just the business have grown, but probably how you’ve grown within the business, right?

Corey Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that when you spend a significant amount of time at one place, you start to learn a lot about how that place works, how… You learn more. You learn the business side, you learn how contracts are acquired. And I’ve found that I’ve learned so much more about business just by playing a role in business development, pitching work to clients. And it’s been a great experience in the sense that I get to learn more than just visual design. And I get to learn the different areas of how to run a business and how money is generated and what’s important to companies to grow, and so that’s exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, let’s switch gears here a little bit, because you’ve talked a good bit about work, but let’s learn more about you, about your origin story. And we are going to get to the sauce, in case anybody’s listening and want to find out more about that. We’ll get to that, but tell me more about where you grew up. You mentioned Pennsylvania.

Corey Jones:
Yeah. Yeah, we’ll definitely get to the sauce. My origin story leads to the sauce, so this is going to be good. I grew up in a town called Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Not too many people know of Johnstown, but it’s a small town and probably about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I always say that because people seem to know Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Steelers, football. I grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
My early days in Johnstown were typical. I had a really good childhood growing up. It really did shape who I was able to become. I spent most of my childhood in my own head. I was always a creative person. I always loved to draw. That was one of the things that I… If you didn’t find me on a basketball court, you found me… I’d be drawing, because art was always an outlet for me. I have two siblings. I have a younger sister and then I also have a twin brother who is my partner in the barbecue sauce. Growing up was typical childhood. I had a really good upbringing, family life. I had some good influences.
But I always like to say that it wasn’t all sunshine growing up. There were some negative influences coming up. And I’ve had family members struggle with alcoholism, drugs, and those things shaped me. Because I didn’t have a lot growing up, we were shielded from the fact of what the circumstances were in our home life. My parents worked really hard, and I always just think back. And I think about my mother, who cleaned houses. And when I look back and I think about my childhood, I was really shielded from what was really going on.
And we had nice things. We had Christmases and we had all these things, but I just know my mother had to work really hard, so that’s always been something that stuck with me and really played a major role into who I am as a person and what I’ve been able to become and where I got this drive to just really work hard. And I look at that and I think about that as something that really shaped who I’ve become.
And the other side is I grew up in a very foody family. Family dinners, big meals we’re a big part of our life, so food has always been a constant thing: barbecue, cookouts, all these different things. And my brother and I just would… We’d love to cook. We were very entrepreneurial growing up. But we would sell candy at school or sell pizza season. Me and my brother would make our own season blends with whatever we had in the cabinet, we would take it to school and we would sell to the other kids because we ate school lunch, and school lunch isn’t always that good. I always remember us making things. We were different, but we were always creative in that way, and so that guided me into this self-discovery about what I really wanted to do, which I can get into too, if you want to dive into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s get into it.

Corey Jones:
I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, I played sports growing up. I played football for a little while, and then I really latched onto basketball. I’m not a very tall person, but I had these dreams of playing in the NBA, and that quickly faded. I realized I’m not getting any taller, but also, it wasn’t something that was… I wasn’t a breakout star in my town or anything like that. But I enjoyed the game, the team, camaraderie, and I always enjoyed sports in that way.
Growing up, as I got older, got into high school, I really started to think about what the heck I wanted to do. I’ve always had this drawing ability, had a deep passion for food, and so my brother, he actually was thinking about becoming a chef, and he did become a chef. And so we would talk about together, was like, “Well, maybe we should go to school together and we’d be a chef, and you could be a chef too. We’d be twin chefs.”
And so while I thought that was a cool idea, I never saw myself working in a kitchen or anything like that. And so I figured, well, what’s the next thing? What else could I do? And so I’ve always grew up, like I said, spent a lot of time drawing and really was into art. I excelled really well in art. And so I had this drawing ability, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It’s one of those things where nobody says, “Oh, be an artist. You should be an artist,” or, “You should go to school and be an artist.” It just wasn’t something that you ever talked about. It’s usually like, “Oh, you could go to the military.” I had some family members who went into the military and had successful careers doing that. But I just didn’t feel like that was for me.
There was this moment where in my high school art class where a older gentleman came to speak, and he was a commercial artist and he did animation. And I was like, oh, really intrigued by animation and this idea of making cartoons. And I figured, well, I could draw, maybe I should go to school for animation, thinking that, well, that could be a great career, making cartoons. I like to watch cartoons.
That’s actually what I did. I went to school initially for animation. My brother went off to culinary school. And last minute we were trying to figure out what schools we were going to go to, and we were looking at areas. We looked at Pittsburgh as a neighboring town. And we ended up going to the same school, which is the Art Institute in Pittsburgh. That by chance they had a two year old culinary program, and so we ended up going from being roommates at home to being roommates in college. And he went for culinary and business management, and then I went into their animation program.

Maurice Cherry:
You both went to the same school, both went to Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Corey Jones:
We did, we did.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What was your time like there?

Corey Jones:
Well, I learned very quickly that I’m not sure that I want to be an animator. How it went down is I got into the program really based on my ability to draw. That program, you have to do some tests to see how well you can draw and make sure you’re able to handle the demands of the program.
And I got in there, and I really enjoyed a lot of my courses. I had some great instructors when it came to animation. But really, part of me just couldn’t shake the fact that I wasn’t sure that animation was a career that would really allow me to excel in. It just seemed like I didn’t fit into animation. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like it was a field that was very inviting, certainly to a person of color. I didn’t see any Black animators or anything like that, and that was important to me. And it is like that in a lot of fields, but I just was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of that.
And so I think it was maybe six quarters in, I decided to change majors to graphic design, and so that’s what I ended up getting my Bachelor’s degree in, graphic design. And that’s when my world opened up. When I learned about graphic design… And knowing myself, I’ve always been super curious about all forms of design, just different things, even just going into a store and looking at packaging and seeing the type on it. I never really thought until I got to school and learned what graphic design was that somebody had to make those things. And that really, really inspired me. And I was like, in graphic design, it’s so broad. You can do logos, you can do packaging design, you can design billboards, but you can also do clothing and apparel design. There’s so many different things you can do.
My brother and I have always been very entrepreneurial and we’re always looking at can we make money? Can we really grow? And so I saw the broadness of graphic design as something that I can really dive into that allowed me to really move and be flexible. And I just saw it as the right career move. And it turned out that it was the right move.
And I think that what I love most about my time at the Art Institute is I got a strong foundation in graphic design and visual design, but there’s also a lot of courses that you can take that were elective like traditional illustration, editorial illustration, and also things like learning Web and Flash; all of those things were a part of that program. And I was able to learn so many different things, but still also hold on to the fact that I’m an artist. I really wanted to be an illustrator for a long time, really go to illustration, or more of the illustration side of graphic design, but ended up really falling in love with logo design and branding. I steered my career towards doing identity design, and I spent a lot of time really focused on that.
But overall, my time at the art Institute was good. I learned a lot there. The school is actually closed now, and so that’s unfortunate. And I know a few of the Art Institutes actually closed. I learned a lot. There are some challenges that I can dig into that I encountered towards the end when I was like, okay, it’s time to find a job. It’s time to get out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, yeah. Talk about those, because I think we have a lot of students that listen to this show, and some of them are in design schools, some of them aren’t, but I know that I often will get letters from rising juniors or rising seniors that are trying to figure out what’s their next step, especially I think in this current climate that we’re in. But no, talk about that. What were some of those difficulties you ran into?

Corey Jones:
In Pittsburgh, there was a lot of agencies in the Pittsburgh area. And when I was getting to the point where it was time to find an internship, I really felt like I struggled to land an internship. For one reason or the other, I just couldn’t find an internship. And I watched a lot of designers around me get internships at some of these places.
And so it was random, but I did my own work. I asked around. And sometimes if you’re not given a opportunity but you always have the power to go find your own opportunity. I took my career, I would say at that time, in my own hands and I started asking around other agencies, other students and peers. And the funny thing is I worked at Office Max at that time. And it was a office supply store, kind of like a Staples. There was a coworker there, and he mentioned that he had a gentleman that he went to church with who had his own marketing agency. And it was called Bynum’s Marketing and Communications. And shout out to Russell Bynum, who’s the founder and owner of that agency. They gave me an opportunity to be an intern, and that experience really was the foundation that shaped my understanding of how an agency worked, how work comes in, how work gets assigned. That was really, really important moment in my career.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting you mention Bynum. Gosh, this is back in maybe 2016 or so, back when Revision Path had a blog and we had writers. And I know we did this series called Black Love by Design. And it was focusing on studios run by Black, married couples, and one of them was Bynum Marketing, Russell and Kathy Bynum.

Corey Jones:
No way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, out of Philly.

Corey Jones:
Oh man, I know Russell and Kathy very well. They gave me an opportunity. It’s sad that the world works the way it does. And I watched all these students landing these internships, and I’m like, what’s the problem here? And that was of those moments that you’re starting to realize how the world works.
And you can take that to two ways. You can be discouraged by it or you can use it as fuel to really push you through moments. And I used that as fuel for me. It was like, I landed this internship, they gave me the opportunity, and I seized every moment of it. Made sure that when I came in, I really gave them some value. I was bringing a lot of the things that I know to their agency. They were learning from me, I was learning from them.
I haven’t chatted with Russell in a while, but Russell and Kathy really gave me a springboard to really start that journey off and really give me some real agency experience, because to find a job when you’re first starting out it’s like chicken and a egg. You don’t have enough experience. And then those internships are really, really crucial in helping you land that first job and really being able to get out there and show that you can do the work, because the portfolio is important, but a lot of times it’s like, well, have you worked at a studio? It could be really tough. But that is such a coincidence.

Maurice Cherry:
It is. And shout out to them for, one, being a Black, married couple that… They’ve both been working in the industry for well over 30 years, and then them extending the opportunity to you as a Black designer as a place where you can start out your career, that’s powerful.

Corey Jones:
I remember being so inspired and so amazed because all these agencies are the same; it’s a couple white dudes who start an agency. And those organizations are just not diverse. And a lot of that, it’s by design.
And I just remember just being so impressed with what Russell and Kathy were doing, and seeing that really, really made me proud. And so I just wanted to add as much value as I could to that agency. I learned a lot from Russell in that time and be forever grateful for that experience.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing, that’s really amazing to hear. And from there, you went on to other roles. I think one of your first really big major roles was senior art director position at GA-1. Tell me about that.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so there’s a couple series of events that led to a little bit before that. There’s another backstory here that I do want to bring up is I also used to do some freelance for… Around the time that I did the internship and right after that, a teacher of mine has his own studio called Old Creations in the Pittsburgh area. And he was looking for some freelancers, and so I was able to gain some real world experience there. And at that time, that was something that, along with the internship, I was able to use to land what was my first gig as a designer for a studio called Three PC Media. At the time, it was called Kisco. And they’re just right on the outside of the Pittsburgh area.
I’ll tell you the story. What happened was is I got this job. One of the founders actually used to be an alumni of the Art Institute, and he was looking for designers, and so I was one of those designers on the list in working with the departments there to try to help me find a job. And so this is about six months outside of school. And I remember being so excited to just have my first job. I didn’t even care about the salary. I didn’t even think about what they were paying me or anything, I was just happy to have a job and learn.
And so I get into that job, and overall it was a great experience. I learned a lot. I spent a good bit of time working for them. And I forget when exactly it was or how long I actually spent there, but I remember one day they came into my office and they were like, “Hey Corey, we’re going to have to let you go. We’re getting a lot of web work, and we’re not really able to keep you busy. And we could probably afford to give you maybe one more paycheck.”
And so I was done that day. I was done the day that they came into my office and said that. And it really made me just not upset, but it made me just question myself and my worth. And I remember thinking I did well at every task they’ve given me. I did really well. And what the thing was is what I didn’t realize is their business was changing. I didn’t really recognize it. I did mostly print at the time, branding work, and they were starting to move into web design and interactive stuff and I just didn’t have those skills.
And it taught me a really, really important lesson. What it taught me is that wherever you go, whatever agency you work for, you have to be very aware of how that business makes its money, the things that they’re working on, and making sure that you’re always able to add value. And I learned very importantly from that moment that you have to be consistently adding value, because I never wanted to be in a position where I was replaceable.
And so that moment was actually the thing that really lit a fire in me and really opened my eyes that I could have a solid portfolio, I can deliver, I can come in and do the job that I’m asked to do and still lose my job. Really, that was the spark that I needed to really set my career on fire. I never wanted to give anybody a reason to say that they can get rid of me. I wanted to make myself irreplaceable, and so I really just used that as the fuel, as I was saying earlier, to really just constantly add value, make sure I’m learning and growing my skills. I just never wanted to be in that position again. That’s what I did with my career is just I started to really make sure that I’m always looking at not just the thing that I’m good at right now, but the things that I could do that would be above and beyond, that would add more value.
And so I went from that experience. They wrote me a really great recommendation, and so I ended up with landing another job shortly after, and I worked that job for a while. And I saw this opportunity in the DC area for GA-1. And I remember thinking again, I worked with Russell and Kathy, and this agency was a multicultural agency, Black owned, husband and wife, and so it reminded me of that experience that I had. And I thought that, wow, this is great. I felt a sense of a belonging, I felt like you’re going to work with people who are like you.
And I went into that role as a senior art director. And all of the roles that I’ve had in my career, the roles were a little bit… the titles were bigger than you normally seeing somebody starting a career out. My first job was kind like they gave me the title lead designer because it was really just two other people in me. I’ve always had a higher title, but I never really had true mentorship at any of these organizations. When I talk to a lot of designers and who really think that they need to have a mentor and that they need that to grow, and I always tell them, “You’re not always going to have access to mentorship in the organizations, but through the web and the network, your mentor could be anybody. You can make up your own mentor through pulling in aspects of people you admire.”
And it’s funny, people ask me, “Well, who are your mentors? And who were some of your mentors coming up?” And I always say, “I don’t really have any mentors. I never really had somebody who was willing to give me their time,” so I would look at key attributes of people admired. And it could be somebody like Michael Jordan. You look at Michael Jordan, the way he played the game, his dedication, and then you take some of those skills. Or Anthony Bourdain, I was a big food person and I was introduced to the world of food and cooking through him. Rest in peace. And I learned a lot about storytelling and how food is the ultimate connector. And so you pull all these little aspects from people you really admire and you can mold yourself in those images and add those things to who you are and who you want to be.

Maurice Cherry:
I wanted to talk about some of these larger roles that you ended up taking later. You worked at the Borenstein Group for a while. What do you remember from that? What did you learn from those?

Corey Jones:
GA-1 was really the springboard for me understanding a lot more details about how an agency works, how business comes in. I was really heavily relied on in those roles. And I remember just feeling so insecure and a lot of self-doubt in that moment, feeling like I don’t know if I should be the one leading these meetings. But I felt like I was, as I say, was just dropped into the fire. And it was a lot of responsibility to be an active person in business development.
And mind you, this is early on in my career and I’m in these meetings talking to stakeholders and running client meetings, and at the same time I’m just figuring it out and trying to become a better designer. It was a lot of pressure to be able to come in, make sure that I’m adding value, but at the same time still growing and following my interest in different areas of design. And I’ve always been really, really curious, I’ve always been self-motivated, and I love to learn. I just love to try to do new things, and so it’s balancing that with the needs of the agency and the day-to-day grind of the agency life. GA-1 was that foundation of really understanding how an agency works.
And a little bit later, then I end up going to work at the Borenstein Group where I held similar director titles, but it’s where I first started really changing from this print first designer to this web first designer and web and interactive. Because a lot of the work we did at the Borenstein Group, it was branding work, but it was branding and website work.
Later on, more towards the end of that, working at the Borenstein Group, we hired a new director who really was a big time mentor, one of my first design mentors who taught me all about the web industries. His name is Joe DePalma. And he actually runs a creative studio called Punch that’s in the DC area. I think you’re in Arlington. But that was the first person to really spend some time really showing me how things worked, how web works, how to work with code, and all these different things that just was completely new to me.
But that was a crucial thing that I needed to learn because everything around me was changing. We were moving out of print first, we were moving into more interactive. And user experience was starting to become a really big thing. I learned a lot about how to design for a wider range of medium types.
At Borenstein Group, I was able to dive into a lot of different things. I was able to not only do print and branding work but interactive websites, and also, I got to work on an actual game for the iPhone. And it was like me going into the vaults of my background and animation classes. It was an agency promotional thing. The game was called Turtle Soup. I don’t think it exists on iTunes anymore, but the game was centered around this turtle was the mascot, and he would be racing through the DC area, and along the way… It’s like a racing game. And along the way, there’s these little icons like social media. And really, what it was was a self-promotional tool for the agency to use to promote itself to say, “Hey, you can use these other forms of media to really grow your impact and grow your brand using social media.”
Every day was different. You got to do so many different things. But I was also able to really refine my skills in working with clients. The funny thing is when I started that experience, I went from GA-1 where I’m leading client presentations and meetings, and then I go to this Borenstein Group where, for a while I wasn’t pitching, I wasn’t even talking to clients, I was behind the scenes for a little bit. I just remember really thinking about that and wondering, okay, no problem leading these client presentations. And why wasn’t I given the opportunity? I thought a lot about that.
And one day, I was able to do a presentation. It was a large board meeting and we were presenting some branding work. The gentleman was like, “I’d love to hear what Corey has to say.” And that was the first time I got what I called a speaking role. At that time, I really knew branding in and out. I love branding. I could talk about it all day. I really sold the project. I remember the guy saying, “I don’t know where you got him from, but keep him forever.” Then all of a sudden, now I’m in every meeting, I’m in every presentation. Once again, I had to prove myself.
And I just feel like I’ve been in all of these agencies and I’ve always felt this pressure, like I’ve got to prove my worth and prove myself, prove that I deserve to be in the room. And it’s a stressful place to be in to always feel like you’ve got to really show your worth, because going from being laid off, there was already some insecurity starting to brew up. I can’t give anybody a reason to lay me off again. I can’t get fired. And so I took that everywhere I went, and I tried to keep making sure I was making a dent, making value. And so finally being able to do a presentation, it was like, okay, I don’t have to worry about that one thing anymore, I can now continue to keep adding value.
And this is one of the things I always tell young designers is you want to get in these organizations, try to make yourself irreplaceable. When you see a gap, try to fill that gap, always looking for ways to show that you deserve to be in the room. And you do deserve to be in the room, and I think that you just got to always make sure you’re mindful of the business and how you’re adding value to that business. Yeah, great experience, learned a lot, ups and downs, but I was able to really, really start to hone my abilities as a creative director, really learning how to better communicate and better collaborate with those around me. That all came in my time, working at the Borenstein Group.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you still feel that way now?

Corey Jones:
I don’t feel it as much. I can’t shake the feeling that somebody’s always watching. I still feel it to an extent, and I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always had this lingering feeling no matter where I went that I just have to prove myself. I always feel like everybody’s watching me, that they’re just waiting for me to fall or waited for me to fail or do something wrong. This is really just of a me. And that burnt me out for a while, too.
I should say through all that advice of really making sure you’re showcasing your value, make sure you’re really feeling, you got to be careful not to burn yourself out. And I did do that a few years back. Just I’ve had this mentality of always being on, always being available. And really, it’s just not healthy, and really, that’s born out of toxic environments where there’s this expectation for you to always be on. And a good bit of my career, it was like that. The places I was in, they were go, go, go, and you always had to feel like you needed to be available, you needed to be on, on call, working on the weekends and those things. And I remember just doing it, just going with the flow and just taking it as it is. And just thinking that, okay, this is normal. And I realized, and now looking back in retrospect that those environments aren’t normal. It isn’t normal to work that way.
Now at Forum One, it’s different. There wasn’t that expectation to always be on and always be available. And I found that here, people are working the standard shift, they’re 9:00 to 5:00. And that was so foreign to me. I just didn’t understand that. I had never seen that before, and so I found it just great to be able to take a step back from this way I was used to working that was really ultimately leading me to be burnt out. And so I just feel so much more balanced. Now I’m really enjoying the work. And I don’t know how it was for you coming up. I do feel like balance is really, really key. And I think that I’m in a much better place now.

Maurice Cherry:
Certainly, I think trying to find a good balance between work and just trying to live your life is certainly important. I think it was different for me because I had my own studio for a number of years, for roughly nine years. From 2008 to 2017, I was running my own studio. And I didn’t have any business mentorship or anything, at least at the beginning during that time to let me know what the balance could look like. It was the running joke that I used to say is, “Oh, as an entrepreneur, you can work half days, any 12 hours you like.” I would work just day in, day out, wouldn’t stop. And I did it because, yes, I had the freedom to make my own schedule, but it wasn’t something that became sustainable, especially once I started growing in business, and certainly not once I started building a team. It’s like, why am I running myself ragged trying to do this? And I need to try to find a way to make that balance.
Now, for the past five years, I’ve been working for startups, and I’ve really found a way to compartmentalize my work hours are between this hour and this hour. And anything after that, I don’t even think about it. I’m moving on to whatever other stuff that I have to do. Some of it is just really staking those boundaries and really sticking to them.
But yeah, it’s a struggle. I think everyone has to find a way to come to that balance. There’s no one true way to do it, because everyone’s circumstances are different, everyone’s situation is different. You just have to find what works best for you. But I think what we can all know is that working too much in that respect will lead to burnout. Absolutely.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. These are just things that you learn along the way. And I’ve learned a lot along the way. And I talk a lot about understanding and knowing the businesses that you work within. Like I talked about, me and my brother, we were always entrepreneurial. And so the barbecue stories, we bypassed the barbecue story, but I’ll jump back to it real quick.
What happened was my brother ended up going into this culinary program. And I’m in the graphic design program, or switching from animation to graphic design. He starts really learning a lot of different sauces and different things. And he had this idea, he was like… One day he comes to me, he’s like, “You know what would be really good? Is a barbecue sauce with coffee. If you think about it, coffee has this roasted smokey flavor. Barbecue has that same character. You know what’d be cool is if we made a coffee infused barbecue sauce.” And he’s like, “You’re in graphic design, you can make the label.”
And that’s literally how it went down. And he was like, “You can make the label.” And so he did all the groundwork. He did all the research into how to get it packaged, how to get the label, the nutritional facts, UPC bar coding, how all this stuff works. He just went out and started researching it, and then we collaborated together. The bottle we have now is a few iterations from what it was. I can’t even look at the first label. I was just like, “Oh, did I design that?” I can’t believe I designed that.”
We’ve been doing the sauce for, oh man, I want to say almost 20 years now. It’s so funny because it was back in college. We started this back in college. And jonesenbbq.com for those who are interested. This is something we did together. And having your own brand and your own business is really… that was the after hours learning. I’m at work and I’m looking at agencies, I’m seeing how agencies work and the business side of agencies, but at home I’m starting a sauce business, a product business, and I’m learning all about how to sell products and building my own website in my free time trying to figure out how to build my own website.
And so I’m after hour is really working on this has been our passion project. And we do well with it. It’s one of those things, if you want things to do well, you have to put more energy into it. But he and I are both career focused. My brother, he’s a chef. And now he actually is transitioning to… He just moved to the Atlanta area. He’s working on some things with a partner down there and really trying to do some interesting concepts, food trucks, and all that.
He was also on the Food Network four times, and won I think three times, he won three times. That’s his of claim the fame there. And so he and I, we’re always running in different circles, but we’re still similar in the sense that we both are really grinding in our own respective areas. And so the barbecue sauce is that one common ground where we come together and work on stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, very cool, very cool. I want to talk about your YouTube channel. This is something I think you started maybe a couple of years ago called Creative Director Studio. Talk to me about that.

Corey Jones:
Well, yeah. And I’ll tell you how that came to be. I always had this mentality for a long time that nobody really cares what I have to say, that nobody was listening. And I realized that that’s just not true. And the reality is there are people watching, there are people listening. And no matter what stage you are in your career, there’s always going to be somebody who is a couple steps below you willing to look at… looking up at you as a mentor, inspired by you. And so I think too many designers out there, or creatives out there often feel self-doubt, but also feel like people aren’t listening to the things that they have that because they haven’t won a major award or whatever it might be. Oh, I haven’t won a major award or an Emmy or anything like that so nobody’s going to care about what I have to say.
But I realized that in mentoring… And I mentor a lot of younger designers now. And then also working at Forum One, I’m a mentor to other designers, and they’re all looking up at me and they’re all taking my advice. And really, I found that that might be my passion. I’ve always been looking for a purpose and passion in this hunger to learn and grow and always adding on new skills to my tool belt.
I’m a creative director, but I went through extensive training in motion graphics and animation a few years back. And I kept asking myself, I was like, what is this new thing going to do for me in my career? What value am I going to leave? What dent can I make in my career? And is it learning the next new thing? And I realized that it’s mentorship. I’ve been so excited to learn that I can really add value to somebody else’s career. And I just found that to be super inspiring.
And so a coworker or colleague of mine, we’ve always talked about this for a long time, about starting some channel dedicated to mentorship. And so we decided to partner up to expand our reach and really make sure that we’re pulling in different perspectives. And so we decided to start the channel, Creative Director Studio, on YouTube. And it’s been a couple months here now, and we’re growing. And it’s a way for me to share what I know, what I’ve learned along the way. And then hopefully, we can inspire the next generation of leaders, of creative leaders, really by sharing what we’ve learned just as a way to give back to the community.
And we’ve got a lot of great plans for the show and thinking about how we’re going to evolve, if we’re going to… What guests we’re bringing in to speak, and really make sure we’re broadening in the voices that happen within creative director studio. And so it’s something we’re working towards. It’s really just a live version of what value I’m giving in my private mentoring sessions when I do those.

Maurice Cherry:
What does success look like for you at this stage in your career?

Corey Jones:
I think for a long time, I was focused on winning awards and doing these different things. And I’ve won someone along the way. I spent a lot of time working with the Smithsonian African American museum. I led to visual design of that. We won some Webby Awards for that. And I was able to win some really good awards in my career. And for a long time, I thought that that was the thing that I wanted as my success metric, and I realized that that’s not it.
For me, success is what I’m doing to give back and who I’m lifting up along the way. I am now focused more on mentoring, other designers, mentoring designers, who are like me, look like me. I believe that success is how many people I bring along the ride with me. What can I do with this position I’m in to lift up those around me and make sure that I’m giving back to the creative community, giving back to those of color in design and showing them that they have somebody there to support them and there’s people out there willing to dedicate that time to mentor you?
I didn’t have a lot of mentors, as I said, and so I can be of the mentor that I didn’t have. And so I used the channel, but I also used mentorship as an opportunity to do that. And I think, honestly, I would be happy with my career if I was just able to be that spark in somebody’s career. If I could just do that, if I could just keep doing that, inspire one person, go to the next person, then to the next person and really, really make sure that I’m just giving back to the community. To me, that’s success enough.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want your next chapter to look like?

Corey Jones:
I am enjoying being a creative director in and leading projects. I’m seeing myself diving into just new forms of design. I’m really excited by the new tech coming out. And there’s all this buzz around AI generated creative. I always live and thrive in that area of curiosity, so anything new that’s coming out, I’m on it. I’m willing to dive in and learn. It’s hard to say; five years is a long time from now, so I see myself diving into some new tech and really diving into just really bigger and better or more… I should say more innovative ideas. I see myself heading in that direction.

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

Corey Jones:
On social media, I’m on Twitter. I use Twitter most for the most part. I’m @coreycreative. You can find me at Corey Creative also on LinkedIn. The barbecue sauce is jonesenbbq.com. Try it out. The best sauce you never tried. And you can also check me out on my YouTube channel at Creative Director Studio. Yeah, that’s where you can find me. I’m always willing to work with people, mentor people, so if those of you out there are looking for mentorship and you need somebody to help you with your career, you can also find me on LinkedIn. Feel free to reach out, happy to connect with anybody.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Corey Jones, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think probably what stands out the most to me from hearing your story and hearing about all of the things that you’re working on is that you’re someone that has drive. And I think that’s rare nowadays because there’s so much that’s available to… For a designer that wants to start out now, you’ve got classes, you’ve got LinkedIn, you’ve got YouTube, you have so much stuff that you may not even have the passion to really become a great designer unless you really have that drive. And it sounds like you’re someone that has just always had that motivation to strive and do more and be better. And I think that’s something that we can all really get inspired by. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Corey Jones:
Thank you. It was all my pleasure. I was happy to be here and add to the series. Thanks a lot.

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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.

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Lafiya Watson Ramirez

It’s still pretty early in 2021, so if the year hasn’t quite gotten off to a good start, then let this week’s conversation with Lafiya Watson Ramirez be the permission you need to turn things around! Lafiya dabbles in several media — web, photography, augmented reality, mixed reality — and creates new projects for herself and for her clients through her company, Bad Chick Studios.

We talked about how she started her studio, and from there she shared the resources and programs she used to teach herself AR and XR. (Spoiler alert: a lot of these tools are free!) Lafiya also spoke on how her love for photography led her to web design and learning Flash, and how embracing becoming a generalist has changed her work and how she perceives herself as a creative.

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