As part of our #DigitalDisruption series, we’re sitting down with thought leaders, game-changers and experts across the spectrum of technology, innovation and the digital space. This week we’re getting informed and inspired by Austin-based Joah Spearman, an entrepreneur and Co-founder and CEO of one of the fastest growing travel apps, Localeur.
1) What drew you to the intersection of technology, innovation and the digital space?
I’ve always been interested in business since childhood when I started my own business cutting grass and selling candy in middle school. Later in life, I started understanding that what I was doing was becoming an entrepreneur. I became interested in technology first as a utility when I was researching various colleges and scholarships in high school and later in college when I was one of the early Facebook users at the University of Texas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started/run a few business that have touched on technology: (1.) a pop-up sneaker boutique which heavily relied on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook (2.) A social media consulting practice where I had clients such as FedEx (3.) An experiential marketing agency where I counted South by Southwest and ESPN X Games as clients, and now (4.) My tech startup Localeur.
Technology is a foundational piece of almost any great business today – whether it’s a restaurant that leverages Instagram to inspire people to try new dishes or a software company helping other businesses. I wanted to start a tech startup in part because I believe this is the integral piece to any lasting innovative business today.
2. Did the lack of representation for people of color in these sectors provide motivation for you forging your career? If so, how did you take that under representation and use it as fire to get to where you are?
The lack of Blacks in tech, especially, has been something I’ve been very aware of throughout my journey in tech both before I co-founded Localeur, and even more so during the first few years of building Localeur and seeking investors. I have all the motivation to make my startup work and stay ambitious in my career, regardless of race; but knowing how few Blacks in tech there are, and how few have been able to get the financial backing necessary to succeed, has definitely been an extra source of determination and drive for me to do everything in my power to take Localeur as far and as high as it can go and also reach out to others trying to pursue tech as well.
3) Do you think that people of color as a whole are doing enough to break into the tech sector/digital space or to support one another in our innovation ventures? How are you working to combat that pain point in the industry?
This is a tough question because in a way it takes a lot of long-term discipline and focus to make a tech venture successful. So, in part, it becomes both a burden to carry to be a Black tech founder charged with forging a successful path few others have gone and also an opportunity to find ways to make that path clearer by helping others. No matter what, there’s a lot of doubt in either staying singularly focused on your own venture or in expending time and energy away from your endeavor to help others. What I’ve tried to do is be as true to my personal mission and passion as possible. That means, first and foremost, maximizing the success of the business I’m building and the responsibility I have to my team and investors who’ve entrusted me with their time and money, and, secondly, to the larger cause of helping Blacks in tech which in the short term means meetups, networking events, speaking gigs, mentoring, etc. In the long-term I believe it is going to be more of a product of whether or not I myself have exemplified the level of success I believe is possible for Blacks in tech.
4) What was your perception about the digital/tech world before entering it, what is your perception now?
I think my perception before was that it was a bit more of a meritocracy and that people invested based on conviction, but now I realize that there’s a lot more “friend of a friend” type stuff going on and more momentum-based investing. I guess you could say the naivete is gone, and now that the reality has set in, I’ve used those early experiences and lessons to make myself smarter as an entrepreneur and tried to instill more grit and rigor into my team and our company as a result.
5) What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter the digital space?
The first piece of advice I’d have for anyone in high school or college today is that they shouldn’t think about digital or social or tech as an industry or a career path, but as a way of thinking. Whether you want to be a sneaker boutique owner or a tech startup founder, the more you understand technology, the better that business is likely to do.
Secondly, I’ve learned myself that getting as close as you can to people who’ve been there and done that, people who can be on your personal board of directors and mentors, the better you’ll be able to see around corners, know the things you don’t know, and learn to adapt to tough situations more quickly. I’ve been truly blessed to have some exceptional advisers and mentors over the years, and they’ve played a huge role in my evolution as an entrepreneur.
Lastly, make sure to stay true to yourself and not someone’s expectations of who you are or what you should focus on. Authenticity is a foundational layer to a successful business person or entrepreneur today – more than ever thanks to social media. Staying true to the experiences you’ve had, the people who’ve helped you get where you are, and the goals you have for yourself and your business, will help you shut out a lot of noise you’ll experience throughout your professional life especially.
Localeur is available for download in the Apple Store and on Google play.