Create brand identity. Instead of saying you have an idea, give it a name so you can speak with more confidence. Instead of, I have an idea for an app, it becomes, let me tell you about Kandiid.
Put ideas down on paper. Create PowerPoints, documents, have conversations, do research. There are probably over 200 PowerPoints on Kandiid that will never be used but each one helped propel this idea forward into what it is now.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benny Pough. He is a respected entertainment industry veteran with over thirty years of experience propelling the careers of some of today’s leading superstars including Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West, Travis Scott, Future, DJ Khaled and 21 Savage. The former President of Roc Nation Music, Pough has left his mark at the forefront of the music industry with additional executive positions at labels Motown Def Jam, Epic Records and MCA Records to name a select few. Pough has successfully transitioned into the entrepreneurship space with the formation of D.Verse Media, a multi-tiered entertainment company that is home to record labels, distribution platforms, publishing, management, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
What brought me here was destiny. My career has been a lot of being in the right place at the right time, with hardwork and dedication meeting at the precipice. I was at the point in my career where I’d spent a lot of time building teams in the music industry as well as identifying and signing artists to labels, and felt that my journey after 30 years in music, of being a part the careers of superstar artists like DJ Khaled, Future, Young Jeezy, Justin Bieber and Rihanna, I felt the need to move into another space. There was more for me to do. So when the opportunity to get into tech came along, something that I hadn’t mastered, this was the perfect opportunity for me to grow both professionally and personally in tackling a new challenge.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
It’s not a story but it’s definitely an interesting and new experience working with Millennials and Gen-Z, where they serve as the driving force and leadership of a corporation. In my experience, senior management is literally senior in age. The thought processes are different and often based in experience; it doesn’t make it better but it’s different. In these circumstances, the energy, the thoughts, the movement, everything happens faster. It has been a learning lesson in keeping up while also steering.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought tech was easy. Just because I’ve performed at a high level in other businesses, I saw quickly that I needed to tighten up and learn more about tech. A lot of processes that work in core business don’t always work here. Tech is a different animal. Working with a bunch of millennials, I had to get the lingo tight. Didn’t want to appear to be the old guy.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Realizing that having a great product doesn’t necessarily mean that people are willing to invest. I also work in real estate so it’s different than buying a home that’s a diamond in the rough in a great neighborhood for a cheap price and everyone wants to bid on it. With tech everyone thinks they have a great product and the value of that product can be ambiguous until it’s actually in the marketplace. I’ve never considered giving up. I’ve never thought about it. I reinvested. That drive comes from my upbringing. My family came from humble beginnings. My parents worked very hard. You have to put your head down and make it happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t think life is about one singular person helping you to get ahead. I would say there have been many crossroads that have had people there who have ushered me through the right door. In the beginning of my life, it was my mom and dad. Along the way, I’ve had superstar mentors, starting with Dedra Tate who gave me my first opportunity in music. And L.A. Reid who showed me all the idiosyncrasies of the music business. Or Obie McKenzie, the renowned financial services executive at BlackRock. I’ve had some exceptional mentors. Having people that you can tap into is necessary. If you only have one person, when they expire, whether that be voluntary or involuntary, you have nothing. It’s always important to know who are the people you need to have in your life at each stage.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve mastered my past and I’m learning my future. Taking on new opportunities, you can only apply the knowledge you’ve already obtained to work through new situations, but you have to recognize, it’s brand new. You have to be open to learning the idiosyncrasies of the new task, the new objective, the new career path. You definitely have to use the wealth of knowledge that you already have but understand that just because you were successful in one area doesn’t mean you will be in this new space, so you have to remain open to learning, taking in as much information as possible to be at the top of your game in a new space.
But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The biggest problem that any minority has is overcoming the oppressions placed on them by the majority. And when you feel your voice isn’t being heard, that in itself is going to create a problem; for a really long time, the voices of minority communities were being ignored. With the advent of social media, you can’t ignore anymore. A couple of decades ago, you wouldn’t have been able to understand what George Floyd was because it would have been a local situation, not a global one. It’s up to all of us now to have hard conversations and hard discussions that we have been able to put off. Tech has allowed those who were once ignored to have a platform to speak for themselves. And now it’s time to listen.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I’ve been in a lot of board circumstances where I was the only African-American and having to realize all that it takes to be the only one. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have gone through the only one syndrome. All of us who have been there understand that while our perspective may be wider than the board’s perspective, it’s not indicative of the culture. As an African-American male, I can’t say what it’s like to be a gay white female or a single mom with four children. I might have more sensitivity to being a minority, but I haven’t walked in those shoes. It’s important for everyone to bring their lived experiences to the table; those experiences have value and help deliver the best outcomes for a business. To have the widest range of experiences present, you have to have the widest range of people represented. When things are monolithic, you can’t grow and you can’t change because there are no new perspectives being offered.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
This is a new landscape for us. It starts with the next generation. We’re fighting the fight for the future so minority children will see tech as a vehicle and avenue for success. Let them know that the journey will be difficult but the rewards on the other side are immense.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Kandiid is giving content creators an opportunity to monetize. Right now, everything is about ownership and how can I sustain myself. Kandiid gives people the opportunity to take content they were placing on other social platforms for free and earn income from it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Version one is now in the marketplace and the next iterations feature some incredible upgrades to help users increase their earning potential.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a stand still? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
You have to constantly evaluate the idea, the product and the execution. You have to evaluate the contribution of each player and whether or not they’re able to help move it forward. Whether it’s getting them the proper training, or helping them change their thinking. When the players’ minds are at peak performance, new plays can be executed boosts in sales and growth become possible.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Absolutely. In my past what I have found to be very effective is pairing two people, a young entrant into the industry paired with a seasoned overachiever for at least a year. By the time the year has passed, the young entrant has now received the best training possible.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
It really starts with knowing your customer. When I’ve seen things go wrong it’s because a company tried to be all things to all people instead of speaking to and working for their specific niche. If you want to expand past that, something big has to happen with your company or your product that you can leverage to expand your customer base.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
My approach in developing tech and the focus of user acquisition is always going to be attributed to the user experience. In order to mitigate the loss of users to a site or an app is to consistently run controlled focus groups. The data that you’re able to collect is always going to be invaluable as it allows the app to adjust to what users want. If you can focus on the engagement and incentivize the usage, the users will then be an advocate for the site / app in question and the focus will then be on retention. In the world of digital, the focus will always be on retention vs. churn because you’re going to automatically count on losing users based on preference. The plan is always going to be to optimize based on retention and engagement.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- First, you have to find out a problem and create your solution. It’s the foundation of your contribution. Uber, I need a ride conveniently. AirBnb, I want to go to a city and feel like I’m at home.
- Create brand identity. Instead of saying you have an idea, give it a name so you can speak with more confidence. Instead of, I have an idea for an app, it becomes, let me tell you about Kandiid.
- Put ideas down on paper. Create PowerPoints, documents, have conversations, do research. There are probably over 200 PowerPoints on Kandiid that will never be used but each one helped propel this idea forward into what it is now.
- Be open. Be open to everything. Be open to someone telling you the idea sucks. Be open to someone telling you it’s great. Be open to connections. Be open to sharing your idea. Be open to reaching out to people. Be open.
- Lead with faith. Have a clear purpose because that will keep you going forward when things get incredibly difficult.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Giving. As opposed to thinking of oneself, thinking about others would become contagious.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Jeff Bezos is on track to becoming the first trillionaire. Having five minutes to just peek into his mind would be invaluable in learning how to leverage product innovation.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!