NOTHING MOVES WITHOUT US: Building a Business for the Culture – Karleen Roy, Coltrane Curtis, Kameron McCullough, Dia Simms, John Henry, Moderator – Imani Ellis

Imani: I feel that one of the ingredients in your secret sauce  is that you are able to predict things before their trends. So I’m going to be a little selfish and ask what’s coming next for culture? What’s going on?

Coltrane: Culture is such a broad term. I run a multicultural marketing firm, so it’s kinda my area. So, as I respond is really what affects our business. With 24 different clients, which means you have 24 different brands and 24 different personalities that are working for those brands is challenging at times. So, one of the trends I see in our industry is everybody is talking about diversity on the agency side which is a monopoly in a sense. People talk about diversity but bigger agencies that have like the little 4 groups of people that is diverse. The trend I really see coming around is not really a trend, but something that is going to sustain itself, its seeing people that look and feel like us on the brand side. Usually what happens is we have just so much energy to work for a brand and spend a lot of work and a lot of time getting them back to zero. Have brand people understand insights, actually understand culture and not like having to sell them on the insight and then sell them on the work. It’s like “Hey believe this insight and buy this from me.” It should be, “Buy this from me.” But a lot of times brands are doing extremely well are the ones that have people who are connected to culture on their side and the agencies themselves don’t have to  the heavy lifting. Its finding people you are connected on the branding side and not just the agency side.

Imani: I think one of the things we talk about also is, yes, having allies inside…And Dia can you talk more about the “clipboard effect” and how it helped you kinda navigate throughout a predominantly male industry?

Dia: Many years ago in my twenties I use to promote parties in DC. And it was a very different time. As a young woman in a nightclub, you really had to be thoughtful and being clear you are only there for business. It’s a thousand people that come every week and I’m running it. So back then, I would actually, and not just for myself, but all the women I work with, I would give us all clipboards. It seems very simple, but the 10 of us would have clipboards that night showed a clearly different level of respect. I always kept…this in my mind when I enter any room, if that makes sense. Particularly having worked in Department of Defense at Hip Hop, in the Suite level is male dominated. I always had in my mind that you should not have to have a prop to be taken seriously. 

Imani: John, let’s talk about money for a little bit. So when we were watching the movie “Hustle”, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of budget. So when you are trying to alligate where you are going to put your funds, where do you think you should start?

John: Well that’s a great question. The answer really depends on what you need in the particular moment.and I think that it is one thing that took me time to  grasp. You look for all the tips and tricks what’s working for everyone else. But the end of the day, you have to access where you’re at, at the particular moment and what you have available to you. What you got? You got a job? Cool. That’s your VC. What’s a VC? Your job is your VC right now. Are you tied into a professional network, where you have a bunch of homies that have a good amount of cash. Maybe, they are open to break you off 5,10g’s? If not, go through all the things you have at your disposal literally one by one. And ultimately, I think right now we are in a dangerous declining business where we are far more focus on raising money than making money. You  would not believe because I run a fund as partner of Harlem Capital, a 25 million fund that invests specifically women and minorities. And you would not believe the amount of people that says ‘Yo, I have an idea. But if only if I had money, I would..”. Fill in the blank. But in reality, can you make it without money. What you don’t read about is the people that cracked the code on raising capital, resources, network, they had been around already for a good decade. And then you read about when they started from scratch and they were able to make it pop right away, you compare yourself to that and develop imposter syndrome. And then you never get off the ground. So this whole money thing…This is my thing. I dropped out of college by the very first semester. I was going to BMCC. It’s not a science, it’s a heart thing. You got heart, you will prove that out and then the research come, customers come and all the things come.

Imani: I love reimagining what will you do with the money. We going to end this with fire round questions. Let’s start with you John. Do you recommend working with family and friends? Yes or No?

John: Ooo. Yes, until it does not work.

Imani: How about you Dia?

Dia: Oooo. That’s hard. Yes

Kameron: Yea

Coltrane: I would say yeah. I run a business that’s based on family. I run with my wife. So I work for her. So that’s friend and family. But I think you should work for friends who are family. And do a quick gut check. Is your friends talented or not? The other thing making sure everyone skill set don’t overlay. When you are building your crew, make sure they have different skill sets.

Karleen: It’s a NO for me y’all. I had experience working with friends. I don’t feel the baseline of excellence is there and being respected level isn’t there. I’m the boss that lay down the law and then one second I got to see you on thanksgiving doing the two-step is very hard for me.

Imani: You get your best work done in the morning or at night?

Karleen: At night.

Coltrane: Bad answer. I get my best work done in the morning and the night. You split your half in half. You start thinking doing all the things that service you. When you work at an agency, you start putting out other people issues or after yours. I get the opportunity to work for other people in the morning and what I need done in the afternoon.

Kameron: For someone who do a lot of partying and is out all hours of the night, I get my best work done in the morning because that’s when my mind is the clearest. Everything comes to me when I wake up. So, usually my good working hours are 6am to about noon because that’s when everything is fresh at the top of my mind.

Dia: Both. When there is work to be done.

John: Having Dominican parents, everyone in the dominican household springs up early in the morning ready to tackle the day. My day starts at 7. Before we wrap, I want to give a big shout out to Cadillac. Some of you know I have a show in “Vice”. and that show is co-produced by Cadillac. I think it’s real relevant to this conversation because as you go on in your journey, you’ll see that there are some brands that literally put their money where their mouths at. I am fortunate to land with a screen partnership with development from the show and beyond. Thank Cadillac for being a true ambassador to the culture.