The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black Americans, including entrepreneurs whose businesses are the bedrock of their communities. For many Black entrepreneurs, it’s crucial that their businesses reflect and support the vibrant culture that these communities represent. Entrepreneurs play a unique role in championing social justice, combating racism and inequity, and reinvesting in Black communities. Hear from Black leaders on how entrepreneurs can navigate new challenges and opportunities and put culture at their core to thrive in today’s business ecosystem.
Nana: Create impact through culture and community. So a little bit about this segment before we jump in. The pandemic disproportionately impacted black Americans, small business owners like yourself and myself. So from entrepreneurs to businesses, all of that. So we’re trying to figure out a way for black entrepreneurs to reflect, support one another, bring back the culture, and represent all communities. So I’m really excited to hop into this, Alfred. And also, may I just add, y’all are looking real dapper. I’m just loving suited, booted vibe. So, I’m going to let y’all brothers go ahead and kill it on here. Thank you so much.
Alfred: Thank you. And I’m Alfred Edmond, Jr. Senior Vice President and Executive Editor at Large at Black Enterprise. I am so excited. I am just trying to stay in my seat right now. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation with this particular panel, and our panel discussion is on creating impact through culture and community. It’s really an important topic because we’re not just talking about the success of black owned businesses, but we’re talking about the value of the black owned businesses to the communities they serve, both within the black community and beyond.
Alfred: We have a great, great panel of brothers to have this discussion. We start with the President and Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, the first black president of that organization in more than a hundred plus years. And that we’re talking about Artis Stevens. We also have with us, and I’m biased because he’s a fellow Rutgers alum like I am, Javid David … I mean Javid Lewis, excuse me, who is an expert in … excuse me, brand management, Senior Brand Management expert at Twitter. Javid, Rutgers in the house, Rutgers in the house. I definitely appreciate that.
Alfred: And also we have Eric Rhone, who is the … It’s almost unfair to even just try to encapsulize him in one sentence. But if you know who Cedric the Entertainer is, and you know just everything that he has done, the powerhouse behind Cedric the Entertainer is Mr. Eric C. Rhone. Just did a major deal on behalf of Bird & a Bear Entertainment with CBS Television Network. That’s why you see The Neighborhood on CBS, their number one show. He’s the executive producer. Welcome Eric C Rhone. Hey guys, how you guys doing?
Artis: Hey, Alfred.
Eric: Very well.
Javid: Doing great. Looking for him to our talk today.
Alfred: I’ve been telling all of my social media followers there’s going to be some gems dropped, and maybe one or two mics along the way. So let’s get right into it. We’re talking about how black entrepreneurs play a unique role in championing social justice causes, combating inequity, and reinvesting in black communities. And one of the things that I tell the entrepreneurs that I mentor is that a market can’t be fertile for you and a desert for everybody else, that a big part of prosperity, and wealth creation, and building prosperous businesses is helping those in the community around you to prosper, not just so they can be customers for your business, but because you’re talking about the ecosystem under which your business operates that creates wealth for everybody involved.
Alfred: So as we just open up the conversation, I’d like Artis, and Javid, and Eric, each of you to address the importance of looking at this two way relationship between businesses that obviously aim to make money and build prosperity for the owners and those who work in those businesses, but also how that contributing to the prosperity of the community is really a circular relationship. And, Artis, we could start with you.
Artis: Yeah. Thank you, Alfred. And let me just say hello and welcome to everyone. Glad to be on this panel with these esteemed gentlemen here. And I feel really excited to be here and talking a little bit with you all. Here’s where I’ll start. I work for an organization, 118 years old. We were founded as an alternative [inaudible 00:04:14] to the juvenile justice system to reach young people and create access, create access, empowerment, opportunity through relationships, mentorship, the power of what that does. And that’s helped us to become the largest youth serving mentoring organization in the country.
Artis: What we’ve learned from that, which gets to your question, is that to really build the types of success in our community … And that’s the way we look at it. About 70% of the kids that we serve come from communities of color. To be able to do that, it takes reciprocal relationships. And it’s not just a simple … the idea of having a positive mentor or positive adult as a mentor in a young person’s life. But when we talk about relationships and building mentorship opportunities, it’s really about the reciprocal way of those connections and how those connections help both individuals to feel empowered, to grow in the scale.
Artis: And the reason why I say that, because I think it’s really important as we think about entrepreneurship, companies, our community, is that it’s a contribution. It’s the idea of, when you think about what we can do and what we have the opportunity to do as black entrepreneurs, really giving to your community, really helping your business to grow, you’re talking about the same principles of mentorship that we talk about to young people. Access, that the idea of creating access and having access to expertise, having access opportunity, to content, to resources, empowerment, the same thing that we talk to young people about is the same connections that you think about when you’re looking at what type of resources and who can help me with those resources.
Artis: Because many times we don’t have access to those resources. Have all the potential and the talent in the world, but we don’t have the access, and therefore, not the empowerment to the resources. So the opportunity to have mentors and the community of mentors that come into your life, is so critically important to how we grow.
Artis: And then the last thing is contribution. And we always talk about it’s not just the idea that you get something, it’s about how much you give back, as well, because it benefits not only the sense of what you do in a broader community, but it helps you to grow, it helps your business to grow, and it truly helps the authenticity of what our community has always been about, which has been about lifting each other as we grow, and as we build, as well,
Alfred: Javid is a Senior Brand Strategist at Twitter, but even beyond that, an entrepreneur in your own right, prior to joining Twitter. You have first hand experience in recognizing how the creation of community, and how communicating through community, can have all kinds of impacts. I know you work with … created a PSA starring Justin Bieber, dealing with the dangers of cyber bullying, which we know is a big challenge in terms of managing culture, both offline and online. Talk to me about the appreciation of culture and community in the day to day work of doing business.
Javid: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Alfred. I think it’s a great question. I think, obviously, with the climate that we’re in now, I think this is more relevant than ever. I came armed with a couple facts. So one of which that I’ll lead with is a stat, new research. We just actually conducted at Twitter. 48% of people agree that it’s more important now for brands to support economic, social, political, or cultural issues, even when it doesn’t directly impact them. So essentially, what this is saying to me is, now more than ever, people are expecting brands to have a voice. Who better to have a voice than black entrepreneurs, folks in the community who are actually on the front lines, who are actually interacting with these folks at a very human level? So I think that’s super important.
Javid: I think entrepreneurs are in a unique position where they don’t sit so disconnected from their communities very often that they’re not able to help service the community, they’re not able to help amplify. I would imagine as a black entrepreneur who owns a business right now, you’re not in a position where you’re just going to be promoting during black history month, which is what we saw a lot of brands doing and getting away with for a long time. It’s something that you can do year round. It’s activity that you build into your marketing and how you communicate. And it goes long beyond just trying to find those key moments. So I think that’s what’s super important as I think about the role of social in this space and this cyclical relationship that you mentioned that exists between businesses and the communities.
Alfred: We’ve hit on mentorship and those types of contributions. We’ve hit on community and culture and how managing that is both a responsibility, but more importantly, an opportunity for business owners. But we’re also going to talk to some themes during the course of this conversation on what success looks like. Eric, when we look at what you’ve done with Cedric the Entertainer, when you look at what you guys did together, and the deals you’ve done, it’s easy to say, okay, this is a successful business partnership. This is a successful business venture. This is a successful black business. But talk to me about what success looks like, because I think framing that in the minds of people who are either starting their businesses or in the early stages of growing their businesses is a very important part of culture and community as we have this conversation.
Eric: Thank you, Alfred. And let me first say congratulations to Artis becoming the first African American CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and to Jarvis, all you’ve done over at Twitter, amazing, amazing work. During our pre call to this particular panel, we talked about what does success look like, what does it mean to be successful in business. The question I’ve been examining for the last few years is that, is it about success or is it about happiness? And so what I’ve often found, although I’m considered successful, does not necessarily mean I’m happy. However, when I’m happy, then everything else falls into line. So as an entrepreneur, as anyone out there thinking about starting a business, you really have to put into context or really get an understanding, are you trying to become successful, or are you trying to become a happy person. And I think the more we examine that particular question we’ll do better in terms of forming relationships, we’ll have more happy relationships.
Eric: We’ll do. Our brands will have a voice that speak to happiness, not just success, because I’m a living example. Success does not breed happiness, yet happiness takes care of success and anything else you have in your life. So I think that combination and understanding from the entrepreneurial space, from the space of whether you’re in social media, whether you’re in social services, or whether you’re in the entertainment industry, you have to really understand … or any industry, for that matter, what is your real accomplishment, what is your real purpose? Is it to be successful? Is it to be happy? If you’re happy, you’re taking care of your community, you’re taking care of your loved ones, you’re giving back, you’re fostering great relationships, you’re active in politics, or whatever you’re calling is. If you are not happy, no amount of success is going to matter. Yet, if you are happy, every bit of success will matter.
Alfred: And I’ll add to that. When you’re happy, you’re resilient when things aren’t so successful. If you’re focused on success, and the tide eventually turns in every business and every career, and there’s always going to be rough times and when you’re not successful, and you’re even less happy. But if you’re happy, you’re resilient enough to endure those times in business when success is not the number one on the agenda for the day, or the week, or the month, or for the quarter. But you can still get through and be resilient because you’re happy what you’re doing.
Alfred: I want to circle back to this idea of mentorship and what are the challenges of being a small business owner, especially if you are in a historically underrepresented population, black, Latino, women, we can name them all, is that you’re often preparing to go into territory that you’ve never been to before, that you’re preparing for success, however you define it, that you don’t have a blueprint in your own family, in your own community, in your own history, to follow. You’re literally going into uncharted territory. And that’s where a lot of times mentorship can be so important.
Alfred: And so I’d like you to guys to go a little bit deeper, and you don’t have to wait. We could take turns, but I’m going to start with Artis and just go into it. What role does mentorship play in the success of many black entrepreneurs? And why is it critical to start finding and building those mentor relationships both within your own, let’s say cohort of race and gender, but beyond that, to find people who have been to the territories that you’re trying to go to as a small business owner?
Artis: Yeah. It’s the only way you learn. Think about it. Think about that the core essence of the way, as humans, that we’ve learned over time has essentially been mentorship. It’s been somebody teaching someone else how to do something. It’s the transfer of knowledge, it’s the transfer of behaviors, it’s the transfer of value. It is intrinsic in who we are is people. So I always tell people, and people ask me all the time, how important is mentorship? And we’ll be at lunch, and I’ll say, “How is it important for you to take a bite of food? How important is it for you to drink the water that’s sitting across from you right now?”
Artis: And I literally mean that because the sense of what feeds our soul, what feeds … I love the way that Eric talked about happiness. The idea of what feeds our purpose is each other. The sense of how we interact, how we connect, how we feed off, and how we grow from people that we identify with, that we connect with, people that stretch us, that nudge us. Whether you were in this type of family or this kind of upbringing, there’s something or someone, none of us are self-made. We are people that have been developed over time from experiences that we’ve had in an ecosystem or a community with other people. So mentorship is core at that.
Artis: And here’s why I’ll bridge that to the conversation we’re having right now. I don’t think that there is no profession that is more apt to the idea of mentorship than the entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial spirit is the concept of mentorship, when you think about and you unpack it in every sense of that word, when you think about the initiative that it takes, and how you have to step forward, and be active, and be there, and be present to learn your craft, to learn the trade, to be able to explore. The idea of resiliency, you talked about that, Alfred. How many times in entrepreneurship do you have that fail, or what some people may perceive as fail, but we like to look at as a learning opportunity and the experience. The idea of trying to be crafty and find every single way that you can make connections.
Artis: This is the concept, all these different types of things, and skill sets, and life skills, and building are what makes you a whole and complete person. There is a lot to give in that sense, and there’s a lot to receive in that sense. So it is structurally embedded into the idea of who we are as people. And that’s why I always tell the idea of mentorship is about transforming the individual, but it’s also about transforming communities. It’s also about transforming the world. Because if we can teach, if we can engage, if we can relate to each other in really powerful and effective ways, the sense of learning, growing, and building community is central to the idea of how we grow and ultimately how we excel.
Alfred: I want to bridge that idea with something we all said we want to talk about today, and I’m going to throw the mic over to Javid. I’m big into social media, but not necessarily for the traditional reasons that social media is very popular. One of my daughters calls me the social media OG, because I’ve been in this game … I don’t even want to talk about BlackPlanet.com Y’all don’t want to know.
Alfred: But I’m saying, when we look at the big question around mentorship, most times the question is how can I find a mentor? How do I find a mentor? And I tell people that through social media, I’ve been mentoring people I don’t even know, that I don’t even know that I’m mentoring them. They’ll DM me and say, you, “You’re my mentor in my mind.” Or I am actually mentoring, but people I may never see face to face because we’re in different parts of the country, in one in one case, a different part of the world. But we’re still able to share resources, share information, support one another, engage one another.
Alfred: So I want to put those two things together. And Javid is the brand strategy at Twitter, to talk about not only using Twitter to get your content out, or to make your case, and all the things that we use social media for, but also to build culture, community, and relationships. And in my case, to really find my mentors, and also to be a mentor and a role model to others. You want to weigh onto that, Javid?
Javid: For sure. Thanks, Alfred. And I think you teed it up perfectly. Social media provides an advantage for people today that wasn’t necessarily around 15 years ago. You have an opportunity to connect with folks such as yourself using social channels. So I think that’s one very big and important piece of it is don’t discount the willingness of senior folks to help. Don’t not send that email, don’t not send that direct message is the advice that I always give folks. I frequently speak at Rutgers University, and that’s one of the things that I always instruct students is, hey, you can never be too pushy, at least in my opinion, when you’re trying to get yourself the opportunity. Most people who are at a decent point in their career don’t mind when others reach out to them and say, “Hey, how did you get here? I would love to find time with you.” In my experience, almost all executives will find time to have that conversation, whether it’s email or verbally, with someone. So I think that’s one piece.
Javid: Something else I jotted as you were talking, and I think it’s really important, is in this space that I sit as a sort of social media expert … Again, this was the career which wasn’t present, necessarily, when I was on the way here. It’s something that was being built, essentially, as I’ve arrived here. And I think that in itself creates a unique opportunity for mentorship because now we have people who are actually making money off of social media, young black folks who are making money off of social media, a diverse crowd of people who are doing that. How do you take that information and now pass it down to the next generation?
Javid: So everyone loves social media. If you’ve ever hung out with anyone who’s under 18, you can’t get a phone out of their hand. You can’t get them to look you in the eyes sometimes. But they love social media. How do you take the thing that they’re doing, that they love, and that they’re already using, how do you take that and teach them how to monetize it? And I think that’s what’s super important, and that’s a big part of what I stress when I speak to students is if you come into my organization, on day one, you’d probably know more about social media than me. You bring that unique perspective. The unique perspective I bring is how do you apply this to business? How are you able to take this to move businesses forward?
Javid: So when I think of mentorship, that’s what comes to mind for me, both what you mentioned, young folks reaching out, building those connections. But also, folks who have used social media reaching back and telling others what are the ways that you can monetize this that go beyond just getting a lot of likes or a lot of follows? How can you really build a career out of social media?
Alfred: Yeah, I got to say, I’m well over 18, and I’m guilty, man. I got itchy Twitter finger. I call it itchy Twitter finger. Right now because not my hands are not on my phone, and I can’t look at my stream, so I get that. Eric, I want you to also look at this from the other direction, which is the ability offline and online through social media and other ways to communicate what you stand for. We’re talking about branding and reputation, and that’s a big thing that I’ve been able to do for myself, both as a professional, as an entrepreneur, to communicate what I stand for so that my tribe can find me and I can find my tribe, and I can build community.
Alfred: But talk about knowing what you stand for. Obviously, with what you’ve been doing, obviously you communicated a certain brand promise to both media companies, television companies, and certainly the audiences that watch the programs that you produce. But talk about this idea of connecting culture, community, and then where you stand in that, and why branding your reputation is so critical to you being able to build a successful business of high integrity and prosperity.
Eric: In the entertainment space, we are often on the front lines of the transformation of information, images, of dreams, of aspirations, of goals. What I’ve found, Alfred, over my career … I’ve been a part of a lot of mentorship, whether it’s through academics, whether it’s through social justice, whether it’s through organizations, fraternities, sororities. And what I’ve found is that the information that is gathered through these processes, it evaporates before it gets to the people that really need it. And I’m going to take a quick, deep dive, but not to get too crazy into it.
Eric: A lot of well intentioned people, a lot of well intentioned organizations, a lot of great information, data, statistics, being analyzed, being looked at, being studied. And yet our community still finds itself, and oftentimes in the worst conditions, still struggling, still trying to make it, trying to be successful. And what I found is that it’s not about success. It is truly about peace and happiness. And that’s the missing equation in all of this good work that all of us are doing. It is about mind, body, and soul. That soul peace, that ability to be able to get a young person to think about happiness, think about peace of mind, think about really understanding the condition that they’re in, and once they get out of that condition, are they happy when they’re successful, or is their life in shambles, but they’re successful?
Eric: And so when you talk about culture, when you talk about impact, when you talk about the things that we’ve all been blessed with, our education, our exposure, our resources, our relationships, we really don’t spend a lot of time in the culture talking about health, a healthy mind, a happy attitude, really understanding that if you ain’t happy, bro, it don’t really matter. It don’t matter what you got, it don’t matter what you have. And it doesn’t matter if you’re educated. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, if you’re a big time rapper, if you’re a big boss. None of that matters when you’re not happy. It only matters when you are happy. You’re only able to really give back and impact the culture, impact the community, when you’re in a good frame of mind.
Eric: And again, a lot of the work, a lot of the great work that has been done, it evaporates before it gets to the people that really need it in our community. And part of my job in entertainment is to illuminate that fact and build content around real characters that translate real happiness on screen, or in music, or what have you. And so again, I can get really deep into this stuff, but at the end of the day, as an entertainment person, we’re on the cutting edge.
Eric: We are the ones that are putting out the content, delivering the images, delivering the messages, whether it’s through music, whether it’s through art, whether it’s through live productions, whether it’s through TV shows, movies. We’re on the cutting edge of, and have been on the cutting edge of, putting out those messages and putting out those images. And so part of our job at A Bird & A Bear is to also put out some happiness, also put out some … You can have it all, but if you’re mine ain’t … if you’re not at peace, dude, it’s not going to translate to what you think success is. That ain’t what it’s at. That’s not where it’s at.
Alfred: I want to build on that as we also talk about, obviously, the main daily point of being in business, which is to generate money, to generate profit. But you make a really important point. I mentor a lot of entrepreneurs, have been doing so for more than 20 years. And most of my focus, if I have a specialty as a mentor, is on the health and wellbeing, mind, body, and spirit, of the entrepreneur, him or herself. And there’s a very practical reason for that. There’s an idea on one end, the idea that justifies the creation of the business, and there’s money. I always tell people to show me the part where the money comes out when I’m looking at your business models and business plans. Yes, you want to make money and use that money to define whatever happiness and success you’re trying to achieve based on those goals.
Alfred: The bridge in between, especially for newer businesses, smaller businesses, businesses that are primarily driven by the energy and the vision of the founder, is that entrepreneur, if they’re unstable, if they’re unhappy, if they have unresolved issues that may have nothing to do with the business, that business is at risk. And so I do want guys to weigh in, and we’re going to circle back to Artis, because obviously, you’re dealing with the hearts and minds of young people. And I think you gave us that in our prep call about the proportion of people that, I think between the ages of 18 and 24, who are really almost like a new core demographic of who you’re trying to serve through Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Alfred: But that is the foundation of business success. And we’ve seen large, huge companies collapse because of the one failed leader breaking down in some way because they are very successful by every measure, but they weren’t stable as human beings. So I just wanted you to talk to that and connect that to the ability to monetize whatever idea, whatever kind of business you’re putting out.
Artis: Yeah, it’s a central concept to what we talk about, and what we engage young people, and what they engage us with, most importantly, their voice, their leadership, their empowerment. We traditionally, for years, over a century, we traditionally have served five to 18, school-aged kids has been our sweet spot. When the pandemic hit, something happened, something changed. And what we saw was that young people 18 to 25 is our fastest growing population that we’re serving today. And why is that? Because kids were graduating or getting close to it, and they were saying, “What do I do next? What is my piece and my center? How do I find my myself?” Not just the sense of getting a job. I want to be really clear about that. It was about finding my center of myself, finding who I am, my own identity, my sense of peace, my sense of connection. That’s what we’ve been hearing. That’s what we’ve been hearing from young people.
Artis: And we’re seeing that time and time again, that one of the biggest things … So when you look at our organization, there are two big cornerstones that we’re seeing in the mentoring space. One is the sense of access to workforce development pipeline. We’re the largest provider of youth workplace mentoring in the country. So we see it time and time again, those skills that young people need to be resilient, to be leading. And it’s all the Es. It’s education, it’s employment, it’s enlistment, and it’s entrepreneurship. It’s all the Es that we’re seeing that’s explored there. But the other one is mental health. Mental and emotional wellbeing is at the core of what we’re seeing.
Artis: And here’s something really critical that we talk about that I think is so applicable to this conversation. And when we build plans with young people, it’s not we prepare them, meaning adults. It’s a partnership, and the young person leads in building that partnership. And here’s the difference about how they talk about their plans versus how we talk about ours. We circle this big outcome. I’m not saying the outcome’s not important. But we circle these big outcomes, and we say, “Here’s where we want to be in five years. Here’s where we want to be in 10 years. And I want this to be established. And I want all these different things to happen.”
Artis: You know what they’re saying? “I want to talk about the journey. I want to talk about the actual journey of getting there. What does that mean? How am I feeling? What does that look like? What does my world look like? What does my currency look like in terms of people that’s around me? How am my journeying?” And I think there’s something to be learned from that. I tell people this all the time. There’s power in … And I think someone was talking about this early in terms of the sense of connection, and I think it was Javid who was talking about what he learns from some of the young people that come into the classes or into the work, that there’s so much that we can take from the power of the youth voice and young people, even the people that’s in your household, your kids.
Artis: I’m telling you, I get it from my 14 in my 12 year old all the time when I’m learning something new. It’s not just what I’m teaching and I’m growing, it’s the sense that what they understand is there’s something about this experience and journey. And we look at it and we say, “Oh, they’re on social media all the time.” That’s where we go. Where they’re going is, “That’s my sense of currency, that’s my sense of connection. That’s my sense of sometimes bringing in and finding what I need to fill my soul, to fill my spirit.” So we got to dig deeper. We got to unpack. And you got to find that journey with yourself because the journey part is just as important as we talk about the outcome. And in many cases, it’s even more important because it’s what helps you ultimately to get to the outcome and have the type of experience that you need.
Alfred: Listen, I want to invite our audience to send some questions in, and we will definitely to have some Q&A before we end this conversation. So, if you have some questions, now is the time to send them in so we can try to get a few of those in before we wrap up. Javid, I really want to, again, continue to build on this idea, because it all leads to the ultimate goal of successful businesses and successful communities as part of a culture of success. And we’re all agreeing that success doesn’t happen without some basic health and happiness among all of those involved in that community.
Alfred: But no one knows better than, I think, those of you who work at Twitter about the connection between the actions of healthy people, which creates healthy or unhealthy communities, and produce healthy or unhealthy outcomes, including successful businesses and prosperous communities. Talk to me about, as a brand strategist … And again, you’re looking at what brands do on Twitter that makes them more effective participants in this larger ecosystem. Yes, they’re there to sell products and services, and to make sure their brand reputation is what they want it to be. But it’s bigger than that. I think we’ve learned, particularly on the platform of Twitter over the last 10 years, that it’s actually had far broader implications than just the basic, “I have a brand message, you have an audience, and I’m just trying to get it out to them.”
Javid: Sure. I wanted to, too, I wanted to get to that, but I wanted to build on something that Artis said, which I think is really important. I don’t want to lose it. There’s that great Steve Jobs quote, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards.” And as I think about success and what it has meant specific to my career is, this role that I’m in right now did not necessarily exist when I was in college or when I was coming up. So sometimes in life, success is … and I think Eric is doing a good job of talking about this, success is finding what makes you happy. And then people always tell you, if you do what you love, people will pay you for it. That doesn’t always happen, but it is nice when it does happen.
Javid: And I think for me, what has happened is doing what I love, staying on the cusp of digital, social trends, what are things that are going on. And as I’ve been of falling in love with something, getting a deeper understanding of something at the same time, the industry has matured. And that has allowed me to create an opportunity now to sit within a large global organization. So, that’s some of the advice I would give to perhaps some of the young folks who could be listening, or even other folks who are not young who could be listening, is that sometimes you’ll be building something, and there’s not necessarily that thing at the end of the tunnel that you can see immediately. Sometimes it’s just about doing something that makes you feel good, something you’re excited about. And then the results do come.
Javid: I think I mentioned this in our pre-call, but there was a point in time when I had my own blogging business. And I was just essentially doing this blog. I did it for no other purpose than to amuse my friends. And we ended up getting a big co-sign by Kanye West one day, and all of a sudden, for the next five years that became my business. That’s something I could have never forecasted. It’s just something that happened because I was doing what I love. So I hope I didn’t derail too much from your question, but I felt like the whole notion of success and getting there was really important.
Javid: I think within a company, one of the things I’ve learned at Twitter is, outside of just work, business success, is creating an environment where people have this space to be themselves is super important. People want to bring their whole selves to work. And I think some companies like Twitter do a great job of that, where it doesn’t matter what you look like, what your interests are. People love working in cultures where they can essentially be themselves. And I think even for entrepreneurs, as you think about who to hire, whether you got three employees or five employees, I think it’s really important to just not have a cookie cutter mold of what you think a successful person within your organization will look like, and just go outside of that and allow different types of people to be successful within the company you’re building.
Alfred: Yeah, I totally get that. I appreciate both answers to the question. Because, again, we circle back to Eric, this idea of even tying your success to what you do is, like you said, Javid, what you do didn’t exist again. If you’re not fundamentally happy with where you are now, then what happens is you can’t tie that to what you do because what you do doesn’t exist. I already know, as someone who’s reinvented myself at least eight or nine times, and I’m a baby boomer, that what I do now had no bearing on what I thought I’d be happy doing when I was coming out of college. So, even that do what you love, it sounds wonderful. But what if what you love to do hasn’t even been invented yet, and you don’t know it exists yet?
Alfred: And that’s also important for business owners. What started your business, what inspired your business, maybe obsolete two years from now, may be obsolete five years from now. You may have to constantly reinvent how you serve the purpose of the business, even as the business is growing and evolving. And that’s true for large companies, but it’s certainly true for small business owners. Eric, I don’t know if what you’re doing now is what you imagined you might be doing 10, 15, 20 years ago. So talk about that.
Eric: Well, Ced and I, we’ve been partners since 1983 when we were in school. So we went to school together, graduated from college, started our firm, really ’94. But we were imagining that we would be in this space, in this entertainment industry. Obviously, back then, there was no social media. There weren’t all the tools that the kids or young people, young professionals have today. We didn’t have any of that. So you literally had to be in LA or in New York. And we’re from St. Louis. You had to be in these cities, beating down doors, really establishing relationships, and really building a business. Today, through social media, through various platforms, you can really build a business and not necessarily have to be in any location that you may want to have that business in. It’s a lot of access, there’s a lot of ways to connect with people all over the world through people like Javid and what he does.
Eric: But this entrepreneurial, cultural thing, again, I think it’s important that, on your journey, that you really try and find an environment where you can truly bring your gifts. So in my space, we would often have projects, or we would have scripts, or we would want to do TV shows or movies. And I’m telling you this to illustrate my point. We would go in and we would have a great script, we would have a … that was very culturally relatable to our culture. We thought it was funny, et cetera, cetera. But when we started dealing with the bigger corporations, with the bigger studios and networks, they didn’t get it. So a lot of times we would be left at the door with what we thought was incredible, and what they just didn’t get. So I think as we’re trying to tie this cultural thing in, it’s important to be in an environment where your gifts are recognized, where you don’t have to simulate so much into a culture that you leave your gifts at the door.
Eric: And I think it’s important, that journey that Artis was talking about, that journey is about being valued, and being in an environment where your gifts are accepted and where you are rewarded for those gifts, whether you’re an entrepreneur starting a business, or whether you work in a big corporation like Javid, it’s important that your values and your gifts be recognized.
Alfred: Gentlemen, this has been really a powerful and illuminating conversation. I’d really like to be able to close out, we only have a couple of minutes left, with your final thoughts around culture and community as relates to success and happiness as a small business owner, particularly a black owned business owner. And I’d like to start with Javid, go to Artis, and close out where Eric.
Javid: I think as a small business owner, what I would love for you to leave with, if you’re watching this, is just the idea that, kind of what I led with, consumers are desiring more from brands than ever before. And a lot of times when we talk about brands, we’re talking about big brands. When people say the word brands, your mind, doesn’t always go to the local ice cream shop, or the local T-shirt shop, or whatever that business is. But that falls under brands. Consumers have voiced their surveys that Twitter has done, other organizations, that show that this is something that people want more than ever before. They want brands to be vocal when things happen. I think as an entrepreneur, specifically an entrepreneur of color, you’re in a unique position where you’re on the front lines of many of these issues that your own consumers are concerned about. So through that, just by showing your passion, your awareness of what’s happening-
Javid: You’ll see the benefit of that. There was a great stat, I think it was Ben and Jerry’s, sales went up like 30% after they put out their statement around the time that everything was happening with George Floyd, because they put out a really powerful statement online. So this isn’t just something that you’re doing to feel good and to look good. This is something that actually has business driving results. And I think black and entrepreneurs of color are uniquely positioned to really take advantage of this new trend of consumers wanting more from brands.
Alfred: Artis, Eric, we’re going to quickly wrap, if there’s just one final thought you want to leave before we end this conversation, real quick.
Artis: Yeah. I’ll quickly say, and this is part of the DNA of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and always has been, that you don’t have to be perfect, to be a mentor. You don’t have to be perfect. You have to be present and persistent. And for those of you who are watching today, know that as you build your business, as you build anything, because business and entrepreneur spirit can be threaded through almost anything that you can think of, but know that it doesn’t always have to be perfect. I think sometimes we work on the honing of being perfect, and perfect, and perfect, and forget the essence of who we are, which is really about showing up half the time and being persistent in our endeavors and our work, and having faith in what we bring to the table and the talents that we give and we contribute to this world.
Alfred: Eric, a final, word quick word.
Eric: Real quick, just go where your gifts are valued, be in environments where you are valued and the gifts that you bring to the table are valued. And remember you make it, it doesn’t make you.
Alfred: Perfect. Perfect. I’m Alfred Edmond, Jr. with Black Enterprise. I’m so glad to have moderated this conversation. Thank you, brothers. Thank you for just dropping, again, gems, and one or two mics along the way. And we’ll just give it back to our host. Thank you.
Nana: Thank you so much, Alfred. Thank you so much to all of the panelists. That was absolutely amazing. When it comes to reinventing yourself, I think we all get so afraid like, “Oh, I’m at a certain point in my business. Why am I reinventing myself five years in?” But the business is always changing, and your customer is always changing. Your community’s always evolving. So I think one thing I learned is don’t be afraid to take that step and reinvent yourself. So thank you all so much. Thank you. Thank you.