Darien Dash is a longtime innovator and disruptor in the technology space. With experience from the music industry to digital marketing and strategic business management for athletes and entertainers, among others, Dash used his music and entertainment background as a springboard for his numerous other entrepreneurial ventures.
Today’s entrepreneur can find all kinds of business advice from investors, former founders, business consultants, and other actors in the startup ecosystem. But when Darien Dash began his journey into entrepreneurship, he had no roadmap and went public from home within half a decade.
From hip hop to early internet pioneer
Darien Dash has always had an entrepreneurial spirit that was sparked in the early 1990s with the formation of his first two companies at a young age. Inspired by reading John Naisbitt’s 1982 book Megatrends in his senior year at the University of Southern California, Dash had a hunch he wanted to get into tech but wasn’t sure how to get there or what kind of problems he wanted to solve technology solutions that were currently on the market. So while he was still in college with cousin Damon J., he formed Roc-A-Bloc Records, the two discussed it at a Heavy-D launch party, and decided they had the potential for a successful business together by doing the Leverage her contacts in the music industry and Dash’s family background in the entertainment business in New York.
Roc-A-Bloc has certainly been successful as the label signed the then-aspiring Jay-Z within two years of launch and grossed over $ 100,000 in record sales before Jay-Z rose to superstar and become a mogul of its own becameegul. But despite the success of Roc-A-Bloc and its connections in the entertainment business, Dash was unhappy with the direction of his life. He realized that the technology offered more potential firepower for his ambitious visions. Megatrends accurately predicted that technology would become society’s main wealth driver within decades, unlike the captains of industry, but just 15 years after the book was first published, Dash had other ideas.
Damon J. founded Roc-A-Fella Records after Jay-Z took the label to new heights, and Dash left them to focus on how to work with computers when the internet was young and it was only at the beginning to take company. After graduating from USC in 1994, Dash started his own company, DME Interactive Holdings, dedicated to providing hardware, software, and Internet access to urban communities with more professional and educational opportunities.
Given that 5 million Americans had Internet access in 1994, compared to only about 10% of Americans who don’t use the Internet today, Dash sought to become a change agent long before the Internet was such a ubiquitous part of commerce, communications and culture became. By 1999, DME Interactive had gained a solid foothold in the technology sector and was the first black-owned company to be listed on the NYSE. Darien Dash then worked with President Clinton to improve Internet access in minority communities, working with Carly Fiorina, who was then CEO of Hewlett-Packard, to develop her Places of Color program, which provides low-cost computers to disadvantaged communities Should provide in the New York City area. Growing up in impoverished Black and Hispanic communities where the Clinton administration wanted to improve technology parity, Dash testified before Congress how to improve internet access and fill the technology gap in underserved communities. Given his background in hip hop and the entertainment industry, Dash decided to get famous rappers like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy to make computers and technology more palatable to the average user and minority groups in general, as opposed to certain niches of the tech-savvy middle class -Class white. Dash worked with AT&T to fill this digital gap and bring more minority households to Internet access in the 1990s.
Twenty years after his tremendous success at DME Interactive, Darien Dash became CEO of The Movement Management, a consulting firm founded in 2015, in addition to his current positions as Director at Dunkin Donuts Franchise Growth Partners and 414 Media Advisors. In addition to advising on sports, entertainment, and media, Dash was also one of the first entrepreneurs to invest heavily in legal cannabis and CBD products before the industry exploded.
Darien Dash’s rocky road to success and what today’s startup founders can learn from him
While Darien Dash’s success is certainly impressive, he has faced several challenges. The 1990s were a radically different time for technology and entrepreneurship, and neither of them had as many resources as there are today.
Despite these differences, there are many lessons to be learned from Darien Dash’s entrepreneurial journey spanning three decades and advice for startups to learn from it.
You might be able to get your idea off the ground without an investor …
It is said that VCs are hoarding about $ 120 billion in cash, but only about 34% of startups receive Round A funding. About 1,500 startups per year are selected by VCs, and another 50,000 are funded by angel investors, relatively to the hundreds of thousands of suggestions reaching their desks.
Darien Dash self-financed DME Interactive for four and a half years until the company went public in 1999.
Going public is less of a be-all and end-all today than it was in previous decades. Companies are often given multiple rounds of venture capital while remaining privately owned, making IPO exit strategies less common for professional investors. But Dash never had angel investors or venture capitalists: he was incredibly broke for years so he could finance himself until DME Interactive became sustainable and successful enough without having to constantly invest his money in the company.
While this path is extremely difficult and requires sacrifice on both a business and personal level, the tradeoff is that you can make your career and company path the way you want.
… if you have the right support
Dash was married to a woman who was willing and able to pay the bills while he focused on entrepreneurship. There’s no shame in having a spouse, parent, friend, or other family member paying for your support while you focus on building your business. In addition to providing the credit, however, you should also determine how you will support yourself and your business as you build your business. When you have a family to support, talk to your spouse about how to deal fairly with care and financial assistance.
If this is not an option, take advantage of the expectation of working remotely now. Leverage various sources of funding from the SBA and all state and local programs to get additional funding so you can free up your personal funds to focus solely on your startup.
Make the most of the isolation due to the coronavirus
Entrepreneurship can be lonely. The average person doesn’t understand why founders do what they do, why they would take risks to start their own business instead of just getting a job and working on their passions on the side. But even if you’ve found a supportive community in the startup space, due to COVID-19-related bans, it’s impossible to get together now for these meetup groups and happy hours to talk about business and life.
It’s a difficult time for everyone right now, and social distancing can literally be demanding on your mind and body. But the positive side is that there is no better time to get on your business because you literally can’t go out.
Darien Dash described his first leap into entrepreneurship as “leaving the house for just under seven months”. That sounds unthinkable for 1995, but is now a fact of life in 2020 as we must practice social distancing for our own safety and that of our communities. Right now, nobody expects you to be able to live a social life, a professional life away from home, or even excellent finances. This is the ideal time to test new methods and product design, network and read with investors and other entrepreneurs on social media and digital events. In Dash’s own words in this interview with Entrepreneur Mindz:
“As if I didn’t really get outside unless to talk to someone or to hang out. I didn’t get outside; I stayed in the house and read every day. And all I would do was just read about the business and read what was going on and put together and formulate my understanding of where we were and where we were going. And when I could really do that and connect it to my mission, I came out and decided what I wanted to do with my company. ”
Take the time to read other entrepreneurs’ success and failure stories. Read what’s happening in the world and in the industry and see what opportunities you can draw from people’s problems right now. You may end up moving to a completely different industry than your first company, like Dash did.
Even Darien Dash made mistakes, learned from them and looked to the future
DME Interactive was ahead of its time when it came to creating interactive content with great artists and AOL news features that would be of interest to minority communities and would encourage them to use computers. But the problem he ran into was that people couldn’t really access the content because they didn’t have the technology to do it. This led Dash to launch the Places of Color program, which led to cheaper computers.
Dash used this mistake to fix the blatant problem that was overlooked and to keep thinking about the future. Without DME’s improved CDs, we might not have Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok today.
Follow Darien on Twitter @DarienDash