Markus Robinson

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Yes. It has grown-

Maurice Cherry:
That’s huge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Dreamweaver.

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
It may have color.

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

Markus Robinson:
Front page.

Maurice Cherry:
Or front page.

Markus Robinson:
Front page was interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Is everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Yes, that’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Yeah, that’s sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Yeah B20.

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

Markus Robinson:
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
No three, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Robinson:
I will holla at you.

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

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

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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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.

Get a bit of inspiration from Lafiya and learn what you can!

Nichelle Pace

It’s the start of a new year, and I think we could probably all use something to make us feel more resilient and motivated. Well lucky for you, I’ve got just the thing — our conversation with the dynamic and talented Nichelle Pace. As the president and founder of Brand Enchanting Media, Nichelle brings over 20 years of experience to the table to help her clients with a variety of creative services.

After a brief 2020 recap, Nichelle talked about her process for working with clients, and we spoke about why she started the consultancy and how the market has changed as culture changes. She also spoke on growing up in New Jersey, as well as her previous careers in film and video production and advertising. We even talked about her popular blog Stylemom and how Black bloggers from the early 2000s grew into some of the cultural trendsetters we know today. Kick off the year with some great inspiring talk from Nichelle!

Atlanta’s own Goldi Gold describes himself as a “blue collar” digital illustrator, but his hustle and quality of work are top notch. As a fixture of Atlanta’s art scene, Goldi makes sure he’s out there making sure people see art in person.

We talked about how he got started as an illustrator, and what inspires his unique style. From there, Goldi talked about what drew him to Atlanta, and what follows is a candid discussion about how the city treats art and artists, and talks about what motivates him to create day after day. Goldi is a true working artist, y’all — support your local artist!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Designer and web video producer Satchell Drakes is someone I’ve wanted to have on the show for quite a while. Satchell is probably best known for his YouTube channel Satchbag’s Goods — a collection of gorgeously produced and insightful videos on gaming, movies, music, and culture.

We started off talking about the independent Internet space and how he got started with design and video and he walked me through his workflow and what a typical day is like for him as a designer. Satchell also shared the biggest compromise he’s made that has attributed to his success. And of course, we talked about video games too! I think you’ll really get a lot out of this interview, so press play and enjoy!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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