December 4, 2015

Morgan Debaun, Founder

What made you decide to work in tech?

I actually started off wanting to be a teacher but when I got into classrooms I realized that a lot of teachers’ hands were tied by the principals, and the principals’ hands were tied by the laws/government. Then I quickly found out that politicians were mostly influenced by money, business, and interest groups.

I realized that the fastest way to affect change and make a lot of money was to persue the tech industry and figure out how to build products and services for people of color while building sustainable businesses that reinvest in important issues.

The best place to enter the tech industry was Silicon Valley, so I worked at Intuit as a Product Manager for two and a half years.

Intuit is a great company because they care about financial independence for small businesses. Since Intuit is an old-school tech company they had money to spend on teaching so I was lucky enough to be part of the leadership program for product managers. Which gave me the foundation to start Blavity.

Have you learned any coding or programming skills since you were working in a tech company and are now a founder?

Yes. When we launched the first version of the site [Blavity], it was all hard coded, and I am the type of person that if I need to learn something to get a task done, I will. My business partner, who is an engineer, is super smart but didn’t really care about the design aspect of things like I did. So, I spent a lot of time teaching myself how to change the front end of the site. I don’t do as much now because we have a team but I can dabble in code based off of that experience alone.

So, what obstacles did you face building Blavity and how did you overcome these obstacles?

When I started building Blavity (although we are still new, only 16 months old), a lot of people said no and thought that we chose the wrong market. They said things like: “The market is too small; it doesn’t make sense to build a product based around young black people” and  “It will be really difficult to bring people on board, especially potential funders.”  People also didn’t like the name. Really, when you are trying something new that is informative and that is a hybrid of a market trend of course it will look weird and awkward and it is going to be uncomfortable because best innovations are a little weird.  It took me weeks to develop my concept and I wasted a lot of time listening to people’s opinions at first because I wanted everyone’s input; however, I learned to turn down the volume of people who ask a lot of questions but don’t provide solutions.

Instead, we rely on people who are on Blavity who read the site and the newsletter, and we let them guide us on what we should be doing next.

How are you able to manage your team and wear different hats?

I don’t do it all myself. It’s about having smart people whom you trust working with you. I am lucky to have a team of rockstars who work really hard. You want to first surround yourself with people who are smarter than you–particularly in areas that you don’t know about. I am not a journalist or a writer and am not from that background. I have an opinion, but we have people in the team who have written several books and their perspective is valuable in our team.

I look for people who are experts that are really specific so the rest of the team can benefit from them.

What has been your experience being a POC in tech?

At Intuit I was one of the few black people in the company and even small being a black woman. I learned to find excellent managers who helped me navigate through the politics so I could move up the corporate ladder. And in the tech industry especially being a POC, you need someone internally to coach you, mentor you can understand things and move up the ladder.

What are three tips you can give to people who want to enter the tech industry?
  1. Don’t wait for someone to invite you into the tech industry. If you want to be part of it do it. Go to angelist, apply to tech programs. Be aggressive about being involved into this world.
  2. Silicon Valley is not the only option. There are big tech companies all over the country: Atlanta, DC, LA, NYC.
  3. Have a skill. It doesn’t have to be coding, it can be a growth hacker, Instagram hacker, etc.–you can cross populations!
Any Plugs?

There are several fellowships and and engineering positions in Blavity! Check out the positions here:

Ruth Mesfun

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