Monday, June 6, 2016
When I first started in Formula 1, I tried to ignore the fact I was the first black guy ever to race in the sport.
But, as I've got older, I've really started to appreciate the implications. It's a pretty cool feeling to be the person to knock down a barrier - just like the Williams sisters did in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf.
I get kids from all different cultures and nationalities coming up to me now, all wanting to be F1 drivers. They feel the sport is open to everyone. That's why it was so great to do the Top Gear festival in Barbados last weekend.
I had so much fun, although being there meant so much more to me than having a good time. My immediate family are from the West Indies - from Trinidad and Grenada - and I have relatives all over the Caribbean.
I am the only representative of that part of the world to drive in F1, so when Top Gear told me about the event I immediately said: "I'd love to do it." It was really cool to go there and it was so busy. Thousands turned up. I heard people flew in from Jamaica and Trinidad just to see me. It was weird. It was almost like it was my event.
In fact, Jeremy Clarkson said to the crowd at one point that "15% of the people are here to see Top Gear and 85% to see Lewis". It was unbelievable, really one of the best weekends I've ever had... the feeling, the energy I got. The fans were so excited - the most excited I have ever seen in my life. I don't think they have ever seen anything like that before, never heard an F1 car anyway, so it was surreal to be the person to bring that to them and represent F1.
Cricket and football are the biggest sports in the Caribbean, but I've noticed that F1 is increasing in popularity. The event was just a blast. I drove a Mercedes F1 car and 'raced' against rally stunt driver Ken Block. We did 'doughnuts' and everything. I've been wanting to do something like that with Ken for a while and hope we'll be able to do something similar in the future.
A reality check While Barbados and a lot of other places in the Caribbean are beautiful, they're not wealthy. My auntie, for example, lives in Grenada in a shack that is no more than 15ft square. That's how my dad's dad lived before he came to England. I went to Barbados after visiting Haiti as part of my work as a Unicef ambassador. Every year, I'm trying to do more with charities. I've been working with Unicef for a couple of years now and I signed up with Save the Children in 2013. Haiti is a beautiful place in many respects, but poverty is a real problem.
A lot of money was raised for Haiti after the terrible earthquake in 2010 and things got a bit better there for a while, but conditions have started to deteriorate again and the child mortality rate has begun to increase. No-one should have to live in the conditions that I saw some kids in there. They were malnourished, not eating. We've all seen pictures of children with flies on their faces, sad and hungry, but television simply does not do justice to the tragedy of it.
When you see a two-year-old kid who doesn't have the energy to move, it's devastating. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it now. I want to bring as much attention to that sort of thing as I can and the film I made there will be shown as part of Sport Aid on 8 June. The next stage in a long battle It's Monaco this weekend, a race I always look forward to. I love street tracks and this is one of my favourites, although my feelings about it have changed over the years.
My win here in 2008 was one of the most significant events of my career, but this is my eighth year in F1 now and I've come to realise that there are so many other great races. Now Monaco is my home, the race is still special but it's different. The first few times I came here, I wanted to emulate Ayrton Senna and win, drive through the tunnel and around all those iconic corners. I lived the dream - and still am living the dream - but the rose-tinted spectacles I once had have gone.
Maybe it's like a relationship... there is the honeymoon period, then it settles down into normality. It's still great, but it moves to a different level. I will still get a buzz every time I climb into the car this weekend - and I still want to be on the top of that podium on Sunday - but, more than anything, I hope it's a good battle. Those first two years I was in F1, Monaco was great, fighting with McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso in 2007 and then the Ferraris in 2008. Since then, very few races here have been a proper battle between teams vying for victory.
Whoever has the superior car has won. For me, that has taken the passion away a little bit. Competition is what I live for. That's why I never play mind games. Of course, sometimes you say things without realising the implications, but I want to win on the track through pure ability. It's the way I was raised. I certainly don't want to handicap a rival before a race. I want him to be at his best. Then, when I beat him, that's bigger than any psychological ploy.
I was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson
Monday, May 9, 2016
At the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in February, one couldn't help but notice the striking new grand piano on the main stage, emblazoned with the name SHADD. When the many accomplished pianists that weekend sat down to strike those keys, it was equally easy to spot their delight in the instrument.
That piano was the product of a trailblazer in his field. The Shadd in question is jazz drummer Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano manufacturer. That makes him the first large-scale commercial African-American instrument manufacturer, period.
For Shadd, piano making is part of his birthright. His grandparents were musicians: His grandmother was a ragtime pianist in the South in the '30s, and his grandfather invented (and performed on) a collapsible drum set. (He never patented it, a lesson his grandson learned.) Shadd's father was himself a piano technician, restorer, builder and performer — as well as a trombonist. And Shadd's aunt was the NEA Jazz Master pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn. A child prodigy, young Warren made his own concert debut at age 4.
Shadd Pianos are now in churches and concert venues across the U.S. — including the set of American Idol, where house keyboardist Wayne Linsey will play it on Wednesday night's episode. On a recent visit to Warren Shadd's home in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a home that doubles as the Shadd Piano showroom — he spoke about his life and work.
Willard Jenkins: What sparked your original interest in pianos?
Warren Shadd: My father was the exclusive piano technician for the Howard Theatre, so I would go down there with him four times a week and see James Brown, Count Basie, [Duke] Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Peggy Lee, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers ... rehearsing. I'd see this all day long, every day. From the time I woke up, there were band rehearsals. Shirley Horn rehearsing in my basement with Billy Hart and Marshall Hawkins ... We had pianos everywhere in my house, from the garage to the basement, sometimes even one of the upright pianos sitting in the kitchen, [Laughs.] And musicians would come over to our house after the gig and play all night: Dude Brown, Bernard Sweetney, Steve Novosel, Roberta Flack ...
My father would have me do little repairs on the piano. When he went on these piano [repair] jobs, he would take me with him to see what the whole thing was about ... and I would never want to go. I just wanted to stay home and play the drums; just wanted to be Warren Shadd the drummer. Except when he said he was going to the Howard Theatre — I was in the car before he got there! I wanted to see all these cats rehearse, see the show ... I met Grady Tate when I was about 6 years old, playing with Jimmy Smith, then went full circle and played with Jimmy Smith myself.
Warren Shadd at age 13.
Warren Shadd at age 13.
Courtesy of Warren Shadd
As I progressed and learned more about piano technology, I never aspired to; I just knew how to do it. I would say, 'Piano is what I know, drums is who I am.' As I went out there and toured with different acts, did a bunch of Broadway shows and got a little tired of the road, I learned how to tune, rebuild and restore pianos. I would take these pianos down to the nuts and bolts and build them back up just for fun, just for a hobby. I would take whole grand or upright pianos apart, build them back up with everything refinished — new strings, new soundboard, new keys, new ivories — for fun. And then my father would sell the piano. [Laughs.] I was about 12, 13 when I started doing this.
The record player was always going, from Sonny Stitt's Low Flame album, to Count Basie, to Buddy Rich, to Miles, to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, the James Gang, Iron Butterfly — I had a real potpourri and understanding of all genres of music. While I was doing this piano thing just for the heck of it, I was also performing with a bunch of folks. After I got through high school, I went to Howard University and was in the big band with Wallace Roney, Geri Allen, Gary Thomas, Noble Jolley Sr., Carroll Dashiell and Paul Carr.
When my father passed in 1993, I took over the piano business full tilt, because he had all of these clients for tuning, rebuilding and restoring. He pretty much had Washington, D.C., totally sewn up with all the church pianos. So when I took it over, I already had a client base — it wasn't like I had to start over fresh. We had all these contracts with churches. Coming in as the second generation of this business was phenomenal for me. Secure from being a musician on tour, it was a built-in job.
As the industry changed a bit, I found that rebuilding pianos was not so much what I really wanted to do financially. I would take these pianos and beautifully restore them ... and somebody would say 'OK, I'll give you $600 for it...' [Laughs.] I'm like, 'Dude, even the new strings I put on this cost four times that much!' So I kind of migrated out of that restoration business into doing tunings and repair work.
I would also exchange parts. I'd take a soundboard out of a Steinway and put it in a Baldwin to see what kind of reaction it would give, understanding the engineering, understanding which side vibrates the most. I'd exchange strings, put on heavier strings, lighter strings, to achieve a certain type of sound. Being a musician, I have an advantage of understanding what musicians want and what they want to hear. If I can compare here — Mr. Steinway doesn't play piano, Yamaha no, Kawai no, Bosendorfer no, Fazioli a little bit ... They are engineers and businessmen; I'm a musician and an engineer and businessman. I have somewhat of a musical advantage. What I'm crafting is a musical instrument and all those different components that go into that, especially the musical parts.
At what point did you decide to actually manufacture pianos?
From churches and especially symphonic tunings, you understood that the piano had a disadvantage in terms of the pianists especially being able to hear themselves play, because in church you're in total competition with the Hammond B-3 organ or the pipe organ, the drums, the bass, the percussion, the choir and the congregation. They would put microphones in the piano, but they weren't placed right to give you the most opulent sound of the piano. You would have to totally jack up that sound for the pianist to feel really comfortable. In the symphony, there'd be a floor monitor, but you're totally surrounded by all these string instruments and you're still at a disadvantage ... and you just play the part.
My first notion was enhancing the volume of the acoustic piano by itself, without any kind of electronics. Even if you add electronics, you'll have more sound, because the origin of the piano will have more sound, more volume to it without distorting it — which is important, too. There's a piano on the market that is somewhat loud, but as you play it louder, it has distortion. The soundboard is not made so well that it can take that kind of pounding. My pianos: You can stand on them and you will not get any kind of distortion.
I studied and researched in the library and wrote a dissertation. I went back to some of those old pianos I restored, and I would experiment with the soundboard. I wrote this stuff on sheets of notebook paper and just put it away, didn't really think that much about it. One day, I was tuning a piano at this old man Mr. Tucker's house. As I'm tuning his old upright piano, he started whimpering. I said 'Mr. Tucker, what's going on?' He said, 'It's all right, Shadd, it's all right.' So I go on tuning the piano, then he really starts crying a lot. 'What's wrong, Mr. Tucker?' He said, 'Shadd, see that piano? See that name on the front of it? That should say Shadd, because you're the only one!' I said, 'OK, Mr. Tucker, I've got these ideas, I'm gonna go back and study.' He pretty much planted the seed.
I went back and blew the dust off of these old ideas that had been sitting in a cabinet, and I started trying to engage some of these parts and put some of these old ideas I had together. And then I said, 'Why not try to do some of this stuff electronically?' So I built this prototype piano. It took me two summers and there it is [pointing to a high-tech grand piano in the adjoining room]. I put an audio system in the piano where speakers are right in front of the piano, so the sound would come right to the pianist and the pianist can hear themselves play. And I put speakers under the piano and a subwoofer so you can get the full gamut of the piano and control the volume and graphic equalize each section of the piano — bass, alto, tenor and treble — so you could go to each section of the piano and customize it just like that. I went another step and made it MIDI, so you could play all of your electronic synthesizer sounds on the piano.
For educational purposes, I made this piano interactive. I put a computer under the piano and I built this 24" touchscreen on the front and a 13" screen on the left and encompassed video cams throughout the piano. So on the other side, interactively, your piano teacher can see you, you can see your piano teacher, they can see our face, torso, left hand, right hand, pedal movement, and teach intelligently anywhere in the world ... distance learning right there at the piano.
From that point, you can also have your band on the other screen, so you can even cut tracks with your band live and in real time. You can teach and you can score on your touchscreen as you're watching that, so it's like a total workshop right in front of the piano. Now you can compete in a church environment, in a symphonic environment, because now you have the volume right in your face. But even taking it to another level ... I have a [piano] bench that has surround sound; it has a subwoofer in it. So now, you don't only just hear the music; you feel the music, so that every little nuance that you play on the piano down to the triple pianissimo ... you feel everything that you're playing.
From there, I said, 'Let me go back to the acoustic piano and see how I can apply some of that stuff to these new pianos.' So I incorporated a lot of the soundboard technology that I invented — and I have patents on all of this technology, unlike my grandfather with the collapsible drum set. I assembled an A team of piano manufacturers around the world and sort of cherry-picked the best of the best. I said I want you to make this ... in accordance to my patents and designs.
My first piano, I sold to the Setai Hotel in New York, now called the Langham Place Hotel, and they play jazz there on this piano — seven days a week. I was trying to get a particular piano company to build my pianos. When I called, they said, 'We'll build your pianos if you bring us 1,000 signatures of people who would buy your pianos.' A friend of mine suggested going to the Gospel Workshop of America, the big convention of all the ministers of music and trustees. It happens annually, and I'm thinking at that time all I had was paperwork: I had a provisional patent, but no prototype piano.
How am I going to go there without a piano? Hammond Organ, Yamaha are going to be there, and they're going to have instruments. So I'm just going to be there selling a piano without a piano? I had these big posters made to put on easels and put all this stuff into an SUV and traveled up to Detroit. I bought a corner booth because people were going to be coming to you on both sides as opposed to being in the middle of a straight line in the exhibit hall. I had these banners made that said, 'First African-American piano manufacturer.' I made a video of all the proposed technology. But I still didn't have a piano. [Laughs.]
I've got a lot of family in Detroit, so I got a couple cousins with clipboards to stand outside of my booth to get these signatures — the name of their church, their minister of music's name, what kind of piano they had in their church, how many pianos would they replace if they were able, and how many would they replace with the Shadd Piano based on the technology you see [in his booth presentation]? I ended up with 864 signatures in four days. I got the rest of them from DC Public Schools.
I had six people across and three deep the whole time. I had no idea there was going to be this much interest. This little church lady with a pillbox hat points up to the poster and says, "You mean, we've got a piano!" When she said that, it was like the whole place stopped — it went silent to me, I did not hear a word. At that moment, I knew that this wasn't about me; this was much bigger than me. I'm thinking I'm a conduit, being the first African-American piano manufacturer, and some would say the first African-American musical instrument maker — we don't make trumpets, trombones, tubas...
What's been the reaction of the players to your piano?
Pianist Christian Sands stands with a Shadd Piano at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in 2014.i
Pianist Christian Sands stands with a Shadd Piano at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in 2014.
Courtesy of Warren Shadd
It was kind of tough initially to get cats to come out here and play the piano. One cat — after he came out and played the piano and was overwhelmed — said 'You know, I've got to apologize. I didn't come out at first because I didn't want to be disappointed!'
How are you going about connecting with piano players?
One player at a time. I call folks, they come over, they play the piano, and they're wowed. Barry Harris was here three weeks ago and he's brought some attention to some other folks about this piano. Church musicians are in here all the time now. I do know there's a responsibility with this, to make the best piano — not one of the best — the best piano, period, in the world, and that's what I believe I've done. As a people, we can't be parallel; we've got to be three times as good. I'm a perfectionist, so every nuance that goes into this piano has to be the very best.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“In order for there to be a strong Black America, you must have strong Black businesses. In order for there to be strong Black businesses, we must have strong Black banks. So, from my standpoint, this is just a reciprocation for what Industrial Bank has done for our communities for the last 80 years,” said USBC CEO Ron Busby Sr. “There’s a trillion dollars of spending power in our community and we want to make sure that dollar stays within our community. Twenty-eight days a dollar stays in the Asian community, twenty-one days a dollar stays in the Hispanic community. In our community, our dollar leaves within six hours. We have got to change that…Until we have total control of how we circulate our money, our power and respect will continue to be marginalized.”
The 15 young men who gathered in the lobby of the historic Industrial Bank are members of the Black Male Entrepreneurship Institute, which is in partnership with the USBC. The meeting took on a celebratory mode as Industrial President/CEO Doyle Mitchell congratulated Busby for his influence.
“I’m just humbled at the presence of mind that you have displayed since you first came to town and started taking a leadership role with the Chamber of Commerce and came to Industrial Bank and made a $5,000 deposit. You put your money where your mouth is,“ said Mitchell. “Our only solution for us to get out of the situation that we are in as Black people is Black on Black economics. I love and appreciate the way you have taken that forward with this effort.”
Busby recalled that when he made that $5,000 deposit five years ago, he was intentionally choosing Black businesses in every area of his life. Buying a house at the time, he said he made sure he had a Black mortgage company, title company, home inspector, pest control company, and moving company. “Everybody that touched the transaction was a Black firm. The service was superior and the price was right.” Since then, Busby has become a leading advocate for support of Black banks and Black-owned businesses. In that regard, USBC has now launched an ongoing fundraising effort for the BMEI, co-founded by Randall Keith Benjamin, Jr. and Howard R. Jean, who accompanied the young entrepreneurs to the bank.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
In this autobiography, Anthony takes the reader through his harrowing past of ending up homeless at age 13 in Washington, D.C. after the death of his grandmother and escaping being murdered by his mother with a meat cleaver one night due to her habitual drug use. Despite not being able to attend high school because the need to feed and clothe himself at such a young age, he was able to earn his GED and leave a homeless shelter behind after getting accepted into a University in North Carolina in 2009. From being a 4.0 student and apart of numerous honor societies since freshmen year, Anthony prepares the reader to experience what it was like being homeless at age 13, to becoming one out of 14 homeless students in the country recognized by the United States of America's Interagency Council on Homelessness and being elected Student Body President of the university his junior year all while graduating Magna Cum Laude in the top percentile of his graduating class in year 2013. This is his story.
Friday, February 19, 2016
There have been several women who have risen to power and greatness in Africa. These women led troops to victory and protected their land. Here is a list of 5 incredible African leaders who gained the respect of both women and men during their reign.
1. Amina-The Queen of Zaria, Nigeria, in the 15th Century
Amina is credited as the architect who created the strong earthen walls around the city of Zaria, which was the prototype for the fortifications used in all Hausa states. Amina was 16 years old when her mother became queen, and she was given the traditional title of magajiya. Amina honed her military skills and became famous for her bravery and military exploits, as she is celebrated in song as “Amina daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.”
2. Candace-The Empress of Ethiopia, 332
Candace is noted as being one of the strongest female military tacticians who had excellent skills at commanding a military. It has been told that King Alexander pulled back his army from attempting to invade Ethiopia during 332 BC because of the fear of the great African Empress.
3. Nefertiti-Queen of Ancient Kemet from 1292 BC to 1225 BC
Nefertiti along with her husband was responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. She reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.
4. Makeda-The Queen of Sheba, 960 B C
The story of Makeda is the most interesting because it entails the meeting between her and the biblical King Solomon. She has always been described as the epitome of beauty and power. She had a series of great achievements recorded in the Glory -of-Kings and the Kebar Nagast
5. Yaa Asantewa-Ashanti Kingdom, Ghana
Yaa Asantewa exerted great power as Queen Mother and warrior queen of the Asante Empire. She was known as the woman who fearlessly fought against the British colonialist to her exile. Queen Mother Yaa Asantewa was the last woman ever to lead a major war against the colonist.
Friday, February 12, 2016
In the world of hip-hop, rappers turned businessmen — Shawn "Jay Z" Carter, Andre "Dr. Dre" Young and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson being the most recognizable names — have become fairly commonplace. Nowadays, most artists have side ventures in music (of course), apparel, food and beverages. Yet however impressive their individual business prowess, few of them are able to call themselves full-fledged investors in Silicon Valley start-ups.
Count Nasir Jones, the multiplatinum-selling rapper better known by his stage moniker "Nas," among that elite group. The Queens, New York-bred artist who first hit the charts more than 20 years ago has quietly metamorphosed into a prolific angel investor — founding the venture capital firm QueensBridge Venture Partners. The firm (not to be confused with the hip-hop supergroup Jones fronted back in the '90s) funnels cash into start-ups as varied as health care, financial technology and Bitcoin.
QueensBridge, based in Los Angeles, invests in more than 40 start-ups across a range of sectors like financial technology, health care and music production. That has helped put Jones in the same strata as Ashton Kutcher and U2 frontman Bono as the tech world's most influential celebrity investors.
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So in a complex sector where billions are harvested — and cash hungry start-ups are born and buried in the blink of an eye — how does one of rap's living legends define his investment philosophy? Jones' answer is surprisingly simple.
"People. That is the absolute No. 1," Jones told CNBC via email. "I love to bet on great people that inspire me and make me think or see things differently."
A big part of that has to do with the management team, Jones added, which "makes a huge difference in the kinds of companies that will stick out to me."
Some of the companies that have grabbed the artist's attention include Silicon Valley darlings like Lyft, Dropbox, Coinbase and Tradesy, all of which are part of QueensBridge's investment bailiwick.
The ride-sharing service and online storage provider are among technology's biggest "unicorns" — private startups valued at least $1 billion — and are poised to become publicly-traded companies once the current downturn subsides. One of QueensBridge's latest investments is LANDR, a start-up that uses big data and artificial intelligence to produce music. LANDR has raised more than $8 million from various sources in the last few years, including Jones' firm.
Silicon Valley is a long way from the rough and tumble world of the New York City neighborhood that's interwoven in the lore of Jones' musical mythology. The 42-year-old artist, an autodidact who dropped out of school after the eighth grade, told CNBC his affinity for learning led him to technology investing.
"I've always wanted to be surrounded by the smartest people in the world, and didn't want to limit that to just music," he wrote to CNBC.
"I want to meet the people who are innovating in all different fields, and investing lets me do that," Jones said. "I meet the people that are changing the game across all different industries, and I get to be there first at the ground level. It's helped me to progress tremendously in my business."
"It's not easy to find the projects that are going to generate a return, and you have to invest your time and energy — not just your money — into researching the companies that are going to do big things."
-Nasir "Nas" Jones, Rapper and angel investor
Despite the recent downturn in the market, it's been a lucrative time to be a technology investor. Last year was a record for venture capital, with more than $128 billion finding their way to a range of companies worldwide, according to data from KPMG Enterprise and CB Insights. Funds for small start-ups, otherwise known as angel investments, have boomed into a $24 billion market by itself, the Center for Venture Research says.
QueensBridge is pitched by more than 100 companies per month, and invests in only a small fraction of them. Anthony Saleh, Jones' manager and partner at QueensBridge, told CNBC in a recent interview that the firm invests from $100,000 to $500,000 in a company, and has done more than 100 deals in the last six years.
Overall, QueensBridge invests in about 20 per year, Saleh said, adding that the firm is "much more top-down than bottom-up as investors. We concentrate on idea or the product, how big the market is and how the founding team is."
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The due diligence process, Saleh told CNBC, can be at least as qualitative as quantitative. Investing in a potential company can include intangibles like "experience, grit, life motivation … those are keys to what we look at. Then we look at how those things kind of mesh."
Even in the freewheeling world of tech companies, corporate governance is a critical ingredient, he added.
"Nas' biggest fear is investing in a company" where the leadership may be unethical, Saleh told CNBC. "He tends to ask more questions about that."
Helping musicians make music
QueensBridge, along with a clutch of other firms such as Warner Music Group, Real Ventures and YUL Ventures, recently invested in LANDR, where CEO Pascal Pilon fused his training in software engineering with business.
LANDR is Pilon's second start-up, and the post music-production service helps master music for more than 300,000 musicians. Mastering is the final step in music production that happens after you record all of the parts and mix them together.
"We felt there was lots of room for musicians to embrace this thing," Pilon told CNBC in a recent interview.
Given the expense and cumbersome effort involved in creating music masters, "Some musicians have never felt the instant gratification of completing a song, and don't have the money to release more songs," and LANDR helps them get there.
That argument cuts to the heart of the notion embraced by Jones and his team at QueensBridge: that a start-up investment is more than just about financial gain.
"I think anyone can be involved with investing if they have the means, but I'd advise anyone who wants to invest to be careful. You have to study it," Jones said. "It's not easy to find the projects that are going to generate a return, and you have to invest your time and energy — not just your money — into researching the companies that are going to do big things."
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Tens of thousands of music fans flocked to Philadelphia this Labor Day weekend for Budweiser’s patriotic “Made In America” festival, where a star studded line-up of musicians, from Beyoncé to De La Soul, took center stage. The explosion of live music spilling on to the Benjamin Franklin parkway, a mixture of iconic voices, electric beats and a roaring crowd, made for an unforgettable outdoor concert experience– but it was the sounds the audience could not hear, a flurry of tones too low for the human ear to detect, that set this year’s festival apart.
“As you approached the festival you received a welcome message. If you were near certain stages, you received reminders for certain events. If you were waiting too long in a certain area you got a free coupon for Budweiser,” says Rodney Williams, co-founder and CEO of LISNR, a mobile communications app that uses inaudible sound waves to send notifications to mobile devices. All of Budweiser’s targeted notifications during the festival, from pop-up coupons to Uber rides, were powered by his communications service .
Imagine shopping and receiving a coupon via text while standing in front of a particular product, or while at a sporting event, receiving a play-by-play of the action you missed while away from your seat. When LISNR’s “smart tones” are emitted in retail spaces, during live events and television broadcasts, the ultrasonic signals trigger mobile devices, which then deliver relevant, hyper-targeted messages based on the users location and activity. Brands like Budweiser, Live Nation, AT&T and the Dallas Cowboys are using LISNR’s revolutionary “smart tone” technology to create one-of-a-kind, interactive fan experiences.
But the real revolution exists within communications technology, an industry that LISNR is poised to disrupt, potentially dethroning Bluetooth as the superior mechanism for wireless transmission.
“Everyone is familiar with Bluetooth, and Bluetooth is light that you can’t see. LISNR is audio that you can’t hear,” Williams explains.
Both Bluetooth, and LISNR, transmit data across devices, but LISNR does so faster, synchronized within 1/10 of a second, and without the need for any additional hardware. Recognizing this potential shift in wireless, from light to sound, CNBC recently ranked LISNR number twelve on its annual Disruptor 50 list.
“We were above Spotify,” Williams notes, citing CNBC’s recognition as his start-up’s greatest milestone to date. They were also listed above Snapchat.
Adding to his list of accomplishments, Williams also received an invitation to speak at the White House for the first annual Demo Day in August of 2015. President Obama hosted the event to showcase the role of entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy. Williams also won the “Gold Lion” at the International Festival of Creativity in Cannes.
Williams’ former role in brand management at Procter & Gamble provided him with unique insights about the challenges that brands face connecting with consumers.
“The holy grail of marketing is to create a technology that can touch consumers where they are,” he says.
Though Williams has always been “obsessed with technology”, his professional background is largely in branding. Williams earned an MBA and a masters in marketing, both by the age of 24. Still, his knack for ideas was evident even at P&G, where he says he was the first marketer to co-write a patent.
“I probably would have been on my thirtieth patent right now, if I was there,” he remarks.
But instead, Williams left P&G to create LISNR in 2012, with four other co-founders. In three years, the startup has raised over $4 million in venture capital funding, a tremendous feat. Less than 1 percent of venture capital backed start-ups are headed by African-American founders.
LISNR is headquartered in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, an area undergoing an extensive economic revitalization, due in part to the presence of high-octane start-ups like LISNR. It’s not a traditional location for a tech company but it has its perks.
“We have some advantages for the type of talent we can attract out of the Midwest and the cost we’re paying for that talent,” he says.
While his start-up serves as local economic engine, Ohio is a world away from Silicon Valley. That means the company is a world away from top-tier investors with the power and purse strings to turn LISNR into a global brand.
“It’s difficult to get in front of those investors,”he admits. “I’ve had investors tell me if you were to talk to [top-tier investors] you would be in a different place. The reality is it’s difficult.”
Williams is frank about the hurdles in his path, but he remains steadfast in his determination to propel LISNR to the forefront of mobile innovation.
“Anytime I raised any amount of money, I had to talk to 40 investors before I reached the three or four that invested,” he reflects. “I think if you really believes in the idea you should be prepared to talk to 100.”
His advice for budding entrepreneurs is simple.
“Move fast,” he says, “learn and grow.”
To keep up with Rodney Williams and LISNR, follow the start-up on Twitter and Instagram @LISNR.