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“Brand over product.” With Adrian Rashad Driscoll

Brand over product. In Tech, and everywhere else really, products constantly change. So, by the time you release your product you should already be working on version 2.0. Brands are what people cling to. Focus more on building a brand than creating a device, that’s what creates legacy. If I say polar bear drinking soda, […]

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Brand over product. In Tech, and everywhere else really, products constantly change. So, by the time you release your product you should already be working on version 2.0. Brands are what people cling to. Focus more on building a brand than creating a device, that’s what creates legacy. If I say polar bear drinking soda, Coke should automatically come to mind. This is the brand that they have established. However, in their 128 year of being a company they have changed their formula (product) numerous times.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Rashad Driscoll.

From the small city of Barstow CA, (yeah, the pitstop on the way to Vegas) Adrian Rashad Driscoll followed his dream of becoming a professional actor and moved to Los Angeles. Shortly after that, he was woken up. After 9 years of great weather and bad traffic, he now makes his living as a filmmaker and Immersive Media Expert.

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?

Thanks for having me! This is an awesome subject and I’m honored to be a part of it! It’s funny, I used to really want to be that triple-threat, jack-of-all-trades kind of guy, and that got me absolutely nowhere. So, after moving to LA county with nothing but my tax check I found out that nobody cares about your talent in LA just your brand. Okay that’s pretty exaggerated, but I learned the hard way that branding is everything! Initially, I only wanted to be an actor I was (and still am) really good. But I had only branded myself as a theatre actor and I wasn’t about to move to New York (I hate the snow). Everyone wanted to see a film reel, which required you to have been in films, which required getting auditions, which required having a film reel, viscous cycle. So out of necessity, I started producing my own content which then turned into a production company. Then immersive media (AR/VR) kind of bit me. I saw this new way to tell stories and was obsessed. It was this beautiful, weird way to trigger emotions that you just can’t get in traditional mediums. Then my inner-nerd took over and my obsession turned into expertise.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

The one that usually amazes people is that I was actually homeless. I lived in a shelter on Skid row at one point. What’s most incredible is that this happened while I was making $25/HR. Now before you start picturing drugs and strippers, the truth of my journey there was a lot less exciting. I was doing a good amount of Promotional Modeling and at the time the payment terms were NET-90 so by the time I actually got paid, I was playing catch-up. This made it impossible to save any money. So, when my ex-girlfriend and I broke up, I couldn’t afford to have a place of my own and poof. Do I return to Barstow or struggle for a bit whilst getting my life back together? Well, as Tyreese said, “I’m not going back to Barstow.” So, as I figured out life and my next steps I lived out of a suitcase. Oh, and get this nobody knew, not even my rich friends. One thing that was mandatory in the shelter was we couldn’t stay anywhere else overnight, we had to check in by Midnight. Business isn’t scary when you’ve walked down skid row in a 3-piece suit at 11:58p.

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?

Back to the Jack-of-all-trades thing. I focused all my free time on being this all-around talent, I learned Spanish, studied film, and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the gym. Although my body looked amazing (I was like a chocolate statue), none of those things were immediately making me money. It took a few years for this to all make sense to me until I was walking down a hallway at Facebook and saw this sign of a rocking horse that read, “Don’t mistake motion for progress.” It stayed with me and shortly after that I heard Denzel say the exact thing at a commencement address. Boom. My life changed. I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things for the wrong reasons. From there on out I coined the term “Avoid Rocking Horses.”

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?

You know, when you aren’t sure where your next meal is going to come from or what is waiting on the corner ahead of you it sucks, I wont sugar-coat it. I had a time that I only had 35 cents in my pocket, I couldn’t even afford a candy bar. Of course, I wanted to give up, but I had too many people who never gave up on me. I think it’s easy to say I was always motivated but that would be a lie. Motivation wavers, it comes and goes. I am obsessed with this, it’s like gravity, I try to get away and it pulls me back. Motivation isn’t enough, it has to be gravitational!

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?

Hands down my Mom! I could give you a list of reasons why but that would be an interview in itself. She always pushed me to do what I loved. If I was doing a play or a show or learning a new craft she ALWAYS supported me. She’s just a different person, she has no ceilings. But it’s really been my whole (immediate) family, My MamaDorsie (grandmother), my little sister and Grandfather. They have always pushed me to be the best version of myself. I heard friends that were doing things they hated because their parents told them to be realistic. That just wasn’t the case with me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Avoid Rocking Horses”-Me, “Don’t mistake motion for Progress”-Unknown and “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” -Will Smith. These sayings are something that I must continue to tell myself almost daily. If I were realistic, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. Period.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

People got fed-up. Police brutality hasn’t gotten worse camera phones have gotten better. Over the years we have watched unarmed black men get harassed & abused & killed and sadly it’s been accepted. I think that people believe that racism is gone and it’s just not true. Dr. King, Malcolm X, and several other freedom fighters lived only 50 years ago. The dam finally broke. I’ll be the first to say that I know some amazing police officers! I have also been harassed more times than I would like to admit. Bad people make bad cops. There has to be a reform justice need has to be just. If you consider how many Black Men have been incarcerated as accessories to crimes, then it should infuriate you when officers don’t get charged when they admit to murdering someone. I completely believe that as an officer there are times to use lethal force. However, this should be your LAST RESORT and to save your own life. It shouldn’t be because you’re angry, or afraid, or tired of chasing someone. Your moral compass should be stronger than the rest of the population not weaker. You weren’t drafted you chose this.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. 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?

Diversity shouldn’t be a mandatory program that you have to hold to not look racist. Inclusion is growth. I don’t know everything, but I do know that I don’t know everything. I love other perspectives; I love giving my perspective to other people. The only way to really create the emotion that you want your product to deliver, is to understand the cares and desires of its recipients. This is how we solve problems and ease pains in business.

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?

There are a few things in my opinion that would be a good start. First, we as business owners (regardless of the company size) need to consider an open-door policy. I feel that a lot of execs still have that old mentality “Do what I say or get fired.” Let us invite everyone to contribute, once this happens people can stop holding on to those amazing ideas for fear of repercussion. Go beyond that by asking your employees thoughts invite feedback both good and constructive and watch the leaders come out of their shells.

Next, we need to celebrate our Black Men in Tech. I know some phenomenally brilliant Black Men that have come up with killer ideas that haven’t gotten any recognition.

Finally, someone needs to reconsider the criteria for getting funding. In tech, you see two kinds of ideas: The why didn’t someone think of this before? Or the why would anyone ever want this? I can’t tell you how many ideas that I’ve heard presented by Black Men that are ignored and then funded later for a white person. It’s disgusting.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

We trigger emotionsA lot of companies in the immersive media space are one of two things: Nerds that are showing off their technical proficiency (that’s us) or, people from film that want to tell their story in a better way (also us). We have been fortunate enough to bridge the gap. At the end of the day, nobody cares about anything except how you made them feel. Working in this medium, we must remember what is important, the story. How can you justify putting on a headset and messing up your hair and makeup? It is our job to provide that justification.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We understand the language. The thing most people won’t admit about immersive media is, it’s not for everyone. It’s just a tool. The same as you wouldn’t build a shed with a rake; you shouldn’t build an experience that should be in 2D, in a VR headset. I know it’s popular, I know it’s a rare opportunity to do something new, but so many people are creating content in VR for the sake of VR. Story should drive your content, not tech.

A great example of this would be the experience we created with United Way. Current homeowners were very reluctant to welcome transitioning people into their neighborhoods. Homelessness has very negative stigmas to it. So, we created a 360 experience that showed the process of getting into supportive housing. We knew that telling someone the story would not stick the same way that it would if we let them experience it themselves. Sure enough, since then over 12,000 people have received homes. Now I know that we didn’t make this happen ourselves, we were a very small part of a big process that the United Way has worked tirelessly on. All the same, this was immersive storytelling done right.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have an enormous project that we are releasing in the near future. I can’t say a lot about it right now but it’s big. It’s also tied to a cause that I am extremely close to. Stay Tuned.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Everyone says think outside the box, but they really don’t say where to look. I say, “Think before the box.” What were the small steps you took to get here? What did you used to do that you have stopped doing due to “time” or “money” or “responsibility”? Go back to the basics and consider the avenues that you stopped exploring when you found some success. Most of the time there is still a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak. Oh, and take care of yourself. Like really take care of yourself. I know you have deadlines, and you think that 7-day work weeks are the answer, but they are not. Self-love opens so many doors.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Absolutely! Create a sense of ownership in your staff. They are doing you a favor by being there. Yes, I know you sign their checks, but they could be getting a check anywhere else. If you could do it yourself, you would but you can’t so treat them like they are the CEO. Make them love coming to work and in return they will make you love having them there (meaning more $$$). The thing is you don’t even have to necessarily pay more. Team lunches and gift card incentives go a loooong way. Let everyone put a Starbucks order in & charge it to the company card then watch their morale for the day. It’s magic.

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?

The Jones Effect and what I call “The Dos Equis Effect.” Be interested and be interesting. Be interested. Your clients pay your bills. So why do some many people have dry, formal, boring conversations with their clients? Find a connection make them excited to see you to speak with you. Find something in common and connect! That’s what will make them brag about you. When they do, they become walking billboards. When was the last time you said, “How are you doing” and truly waited for the answer? If they skip over the answer, ask them again. Or look up ‘Empathic Statements’ and how to give them, it works. Be interesting. The Dos Equis effect is a bit different. Everyone likes a good story, everyone likes a good joke (in the appropriate setting), everyone likes doing cool things with cool people. Yes, you have something cool about yourself, something your client would love to connect with. Do a bit of research, see what they like.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

At the end of the day:

  1. Give them what they want/need not what you want/need to sell.
  2. Do the work.
  3. Be grateful.

I know the upsell is the only way you can meet your target sometimes, but we all know that squeezing the customer for their last dime never ends well. Next, take pride in your brand. Do the work and when something goes wrong, own up to that too. When a customer comes at you with fury in their voice it means they’re confused. Analyze the situation and figure out the win-win. Lastly, appreciate the work! Remember nobody has to do anything, every customer is a blessing (wait, don’t tune me out just yet). When they stop being a blessing and become a burden, remember to be grateful that you have a valuable product and let them go. Yes, get rid of ANY headache customer/client that is not willing to give you the respect you give them.

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?

This is a tough question just because there are a lot of ways to answer it. I feel that people are simple, if you give them what they need then they will come back to you. It’s really important as a business to help your clients/customers understand the line between your willingness to help them and you owing them something. It MUST be very apparent up front that you need each other equally and then the relationship won’t falter. What often happens is we work hard to get the gig and then when they come back we do subpar work; or we lower our rate out of necessity and they expect that we can continue to do it. Remember whatever you do early on becomes what they will expect.

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.

  1. Don’t create solutions for non-problems. Sure, occasionally there comes a product or invention that we definitely don’t need and shouldn’t even want, but we have to have. Those cases are rare at best. Find a problem and solve it, you must ease some type of pain to be viable. I think a great example of solving a non-existent problem is the automatic paper towel dispenser. Think of how many times you have personally gotten frustrated waving your hand in front of the machine to get your scarce ration of paper towel. Then repeating the process until your hand drying needs were met. Some might argue that this saves paper waste, but has that ever stopped you from getting another towel? Is the miniscule amount of saving power worth the irritation that it ultimately caused you?
  2. Brand over product. In Tech, and everywhere else really, products constantly change. So, by the time you release your product you should already be working on version 2.0. Brands are what people cling to. Focus more on building a brand than creating a device, that’s what creates legacy. If I say polar bear drinking soda, Coke should automatically come to mind. This is the brand that they have established. However, in their 128 year of being a company they have changed their formula (product) numerous times.
  3. Measure twice cut once. Do the research. I’ve seen so many people fail by not putting enough time into researching their market. You should try to know about every competitor, every kind-of similar product, every market term, the demographics that your competitors have reached, etc. Most of this information is free and it saves you a ridiculous amount of money in mistakes. Other people have made the mistakes for you! If you have not ever heard of Neilsen boxes, they are devices that are strategically put in homes to measure the TV & Radio viewing/listening habits of families around the world. No this isn’t some secret implant; families agree to have this installed in their homes (for a price). This helps marketing agencies see what you love and hate when you are watching tv. Consider the internet to be the Neilsen box for all your competitors. So much of the information is waiting for you and it’s free.
  4. Network. Social media has made it ridiculously easy to connect with some of the biggest names in the world. But how much time have you really invested in making the right connections? I’m not taking about double tapping on an Instagram pic or sharing a Facebook post. I’m taking about LinkedIn and other professional social media networks. Not only can you connect with incredibly powerful people, you bypass gatekeepers whilst showing your innovations to them. You have a chance to show the Dos Equis effect and again it costs you nothing. I have multiple connections with Billionaires, and I speak to them. I show them what I am doing or working on (even if it’s just through posting) and it’s incredible seeing how interested they become. Then the magic happens, they want to get involved with what your working on because it’s interesting. That’s it. Before you do this, remember this isn’t door to door sales. I’m not at all saying you should get close to rich people to get their money. I’m saying when you become interesting, & do interesting things, interesting people will gravitate towards you.
  5. Be humble. Look this is awesome, cool products and a lot of money are enough to make anyone lose sight of what’s important. You worked hard to get here so you should have pride in the obstacles that you have had to overcome. However, it is ENTIRELY your job to keep yourself grounded enough to be approachable & likeable. You know the cliché “Investors invest in you, not the company?” It’s true! The same goes for your customers and clients. There are so many people that become unbearable to work with, that it doesn’t matter how good their product is, it wont sell. Don’t worry, if that’s just your personality then hire a spokesperson and a PR rep to keep you in everyone’s good graces. Not joking at all by the way.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. 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. 🙂

Honestly, I would push for people to analyze situations more. It feels like right now people are so confused about who they are or what they are capable of, that they become brittle. Everything hurts or offends them and that is a painful way to live. In my opinion, offense is taken, disrespect is given. Something that offends you may not offend me, and vice versa. Therefore, if I am offended by something you say, I ask myself is this coming from a place of ignorance or a place of hate? Either way, I can react in my own way, but now I’m not bound to reacting without analysis. I’m also not bound to being defensive when someone is offended by something I say or do. I feel that, most of the time conflict comes from confusion, (I don’t understand how you could say that, or you don’t understand how I could act that way etc.). Reflection eases confusion.

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 🙂

Jay-Z and GaryV are 2 people that I truly would like to just sit down with and have a conversation. There are two very different perspectives here but they both just get it.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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