Why a white guy is doing a #blacklivesmatter podcast

Disclaimer: All views below are my own and not a reflection or statement of anyone mentioned.

I felt compelled to write this today — shocked, disturbed, disgusted and concerned by UK grime artist, Wiley’s anti-semitic tirade on social media the last few days with casual comments like “I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people”.

I believe people with any size platform have an opportunity, and privilege to share a better message. As a Jew, I care about Hitler AND black people. For what it’s worth — the fact that he is black and making this statement is an unfortunate coincidence & NOT the point to focus on.

The fact he, a human, is making racist statements, is.

Sadly, it seem, so far, only Jewish people felt compelled to condemn it — given we make up 0.2% of the population, it certainly felt ‘noisier’ in support of his comments than against them.

Pretty much all the Jews I know have been very vocal in their support of the #blacklivesmatter movement — after all, racism is racism.

So, whilst Wiley encourages and incites hate for my minority & many remain silent about it feeling like “it’s not their fight”, I thought this would be the perfect time to finally share some background on what I, a white man, have been working on.

A side project for something that’s also not “my fight” but because I believe we should all do what we can to stand up for social justice. Black, white, jew, purple or otherwise — more people caring about equality is what we need right now.

For those that don’t know me — I’m Dan, Co-Founder of a venture-backed brain health & mental wellness startup called Heights with my best friend Joel Freeman. However, I’ve also been hosting a podcast called Secret Leaders for the last 5 years, which became the UK’s number 1 in business (and I wrote a post on how we did it so you can copy it all for free, on Medium here).

I’m a big believer in standing up for what’s right, taking a stance, and paying it forward where I can. When the George Floyd murder happened, I shared this tweet offering free ads in upcoming episodes of Secret Leaders for Black founders & understandably got a great response.

However, lots of people started explaining that a wider problem was the lack of funding, due to networks, accessibility to venture investment and the thinking that most black businesses are made to serve black communities (their words not mine). A lot of the requests that came in were from big scalable & ambitious ideas, and so the idea to start a pitch show to feature them was born.

According to research done by Atomico VC, just 0.5% of all funding goes to black funded businesses in Europe — so it’s clearly not just an issue but an opportunity.

After almost 90 episodes, 4 million downloads & a minimum of 25k listeners per week — it seemed like the perfect place to start, by featuring a second show per week on our main feed, that would showcase one startup pitching for cash to investors in a ‘The Pitch’ format, and we could track their progress throughout the series.

As an entrepreneur, I believe deeply in collaboration, & knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and picking excellent startups to invest in, isn’t one of them.

So the first step was to get an investment committee who could not only pick, but invest in startups that applied. So I teamed up with Andy Davis (10x10), Yvonne Bajela (Impact X Capital), Tim Armoo (Fanbytes), Gloria Monfrini (Partner at Redbus), Nick Jenkins (Moonpig/Dragon’s Den) and Tom Singh (New Look/Rianta Capital).

The Represented Investment Committee

We make it clear that, as these are venture scale startup founders pitching, there won't likely be decisions made in the show because let’s face it, we aren’t asking founders to accept £20k for 80% of their business like Dragon’s Den — so decisions take longer. The hope is that by the end of the series (8 episodes), we will be able to report on the money that’s been invested (of course we are taking 0 fees).

As you would expect, we had a huge volume of applicants and the investment committee could only pick 8 startups but — we have also created an open source ‘Investor List’ that any investor can sign up to & receive intros from the startups that have applied.

Startups that apply (here) whether picked or not, have the opportunity to have their deck shared with investors looking to diversify their portfolio, and I make the intros & we take it from there.

It’s pretty simple — up to 3 minutes to pitch your startup, 15 minutes of Q & A from the investors, some behind the scenes thoughts from the investors, final feedback and then reflections from the founder — all in under 30 minutes.

We have 3 investors per show and 1 startup.

As the show develops, we will be tracking if investments have been made and announce the results by episode 8.

However — pitching startups to investors is hard, and these are sharp investors so like in real life, the actual concerns, questions & doubts from investors are all still there, so you as a listener get an inside track to what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur pitching investors.

This is always a good question to ask yourself with any project — especially one that costs money, has no ad revenue (running free ads for black founded companies instead — apply for that here), takes time, & is a risk. For me, if just one founder gets funding through the show, I would be delighted as it will have contributed to improving an unfair system. If people become customers of the startups that receive advertising — also brilliant. We are also paying to have PR throughout the show (for the investors and founders pitching) so if that results in publicity, happy days.

Good news — we’re 4 episodes in and you can listen to them on iTunes or Spotify or really, any podcast player.

Episode 1; Define. A legal — tech startup (who have since received PR through the show 😃)

Episode 2; Bleep. A ‘Gogglebox’ style app for social watching with a stellar founding team.

Episode 3; Aptap. A bill management platform that is scaling fast & already has a huge pilot scheme running with a massive bank 👏

Episode 4; Bold Health. An amazing digital therapeutics company for digestive health issues by a medical doctor and former VC that is mind-blowingly impressive.

  • We usually get a minimum of 25,000 downloads per week (sometimes up to 125,000 for someone like the founder of Slack). Represented has been averaging at 15,000.
  • Of the 4 pitches from the show so far — 2 are being seriously followed up by investors considering meaningful investment.
  • Of the 20+ pitches we have from venture scale startups that haven’t made it to the show — 4 are in process with serious investor introductions/follow ups.
  • Spotify featured us.
  1. It’s been much harder to get investors involved on the show than I hoped. Twitter was rife with people (VCs especially) talking about wanting to recognise the problem, & be part of the change. Barely any have signed up for the investor list (despite me reaching out directly — including asking for retweets of episodes). There might be many reasons for this, they might already be doing plenty in their own way, too busy, or afraid to put themselves out there. I am not making statements or judgements, because that’s not only not helpful but unjustified (also don’t want to make random guesses about why it’s been so hard, but, as a fact, it has been!).
  2. It’s not resonated with all listeners, for sure (it’s affected our review rating — example below)

3. When you stand for something, you will incite anger/hatred (but it’s worth it). My post introducing it on the London Startups thread was one of their most engaged ever, but caused a lot of fury, I got called a racist multiple times and then received a barrage of abuse in my DMs. Good learning experience, not great for my mental health, but it gave me an opportunity to hone my empathy and debating skills 😉

In an ideal world, by episode 8 we would have enough evidence to suggest that there’s appetite for the show to exist as a standalone one (for which we would find a host & run it as a separate podcast that is ad-funded).

As it stands, we don’t have the evidence for that.

Appetite looks like a mix of investor demand, startup demand & audience demand.

We can’t afford to pay for a free show for longer than 8 episodes (including marketing, production and PR, the cost is £10,000 — none recouped) but it’s a good, worthwhile test to learn from.

If, by the end of the series some startups have received funding, that’s definitely a proof point — however collaboration to get a project like this off the ground is essential, and for whatever reason the show itself has not been shared within either startup, or black communities.

Only around half the startups pitching, or the ones getting free advertising have shared the episodes on their social media, so its reach is limited by our existing distribution & ability to garner extra PR from our brilliant agency Mags Creative.

Recognising this at the halfway point is important because, as a founder, you should know when things appear to be working, and when they don’t, so it is also totally possible that this feedback (very commonly from angry white men) might also ring true;

“No one wants a white guy pushing the black lives matter agenda”.

I’ve heard it a lot from white people, but I accept that it might also be the what black people are thinking too (but too polite to tell me), and it would be fair enough!

Newsflash — black lives still matter.

Social media has gone quieter with this message, and the reason I am proud to continue to push these episodes out regardless of the abuse back, or lack of growing engagement or traction is because I believe in social justice.

I stand against racism & hate, and at a time when my own race is once again being dragged through the gutter for no reason on social media, I think the perfect response is to reiterate a personal commitment to spreading love, supporting my brothers and sisters of the human race, & trying to do one small thing to improve the odds in the field in which I operate.

So, on that note — here’s to the next 4 episodes, I hope you take a chance to listen to the pitches so far and if you’ve made it this far here are some of the links again.

Thanks for reading, please support by listening, sharing & commenting!

Co-Founder of Heights, & Host of Secret Leaders, I write about brain health, mental wellbeing & entrepreneurship.

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