Episode 6 – Joah Spearman
Entrepreneur, CEO & Co-Founder
University of Texas at Austin
Joah Spearman is the CEO & Co-Founder of Localeur, an app that makes it possible for people to experience being a local wherever they are, regardless if its their home city or a city they never visited. He is also on the Board of Directors for KRLU-TV (PBS) and ASA.
What made you decide to work in tech?
Technology has moved from a fringe industry to one that truly impacts our entire lives, from using cell phones as alarm clocks in the morning to liking a few photos on Instagram before going to sleep at night. I’d started smaller businesses in the past–a sneaker boutique in Austin and an experiential marketing agency that worked with SXSW and ESPN X Games–but with Localeur, I’m able to leverage technology in a way that can truly impact the lives of lots of people. I’m focusing on travelers and local businesses, but that’s a quick way to touch something almost everyone is interested in.
What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?
There’s a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in technology, but usually it’s at the 10,000-feet level looking at the overall statistics at companies like Google and Facebook. My experience as a Black CEO and founder in tech has taken that view down to the ground floor, the basement really. It’s been a challenge not only to build a consumer tech startup in Austin that competes with better-funded companies in Silicon Valley and New York, but really it’s been a challenge to get institutional investors to go beyond their typical “pattern matching” of looking for a white male founder with a degree from Harvard or Stanford or an engineering background. We’ve had to be more undeniable than most of our peers simply because there aren’t a dozen examples of successful tech startups with Black CEOs and founders, and I’ve learned to be comfortable in that.
What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it, what is your perception now?
I think my perception before is fairly similar to where it is now with one great exception: tech is truly not a meritocracy. I know that’s a big thing the industry tells itself, but the fact that diversity is a major issue indicates that tech still has a very long way to go to truly reflect people, especially here in America. The way the government or consumer product goods industry reflect them, from the most senior leadership ranks down to the public school teacher or manager of a fast-food restaurant.
What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech?
1) Put yourself in a position to find mentors and develop your own personal board of directors.
2) Know that you have to spend at least a year or two doing something creatively or professionally before you start to see any meaningful results and commit yourself to it.
3) Everyone in tech says it’s OK to fail, but what they really mean is that it’s OK to fail if you learn quickly and adapt. Failing for failing’s sake is not good, but learning is everything.