Interview by Jenisha Watts
For someone who first dismissed Twitter as a waste of time, Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Bryan-Michael Cox is surprisingly gung-ho when it comes to adopting and using new technology. So much so that he joined the board of TheCASHFLOW.com, a nonprofit organization that helps young entrepreneurs actualize their business ideas. Amidst all the tech start-ups popping up and raking in millions of dollars, Cox recognized a big discrepancy: Minority CEOs are largely left out of the conversation. And he would like to change that. We caught up with BMC and talked to him about his new position, how he built his brand on Twitter (@BRYAN_M_COX), why he is embarrassed by the tech status of HBCUs, and what every aspiring entrepreneur should know.
Complex: Congratulations on your new appointment as a board member for the 100 Urban Entrepreneurs. Tell us about your role.
Bryan-Michael Cox: I'm on the advisory board, and basically it is a nonprofit organization that is a part of TheCASHFLOW, where entrepreneurs will be chosen throughout the year to receive $10,000 in start-up money to help finance their businesses.
Complex: Sounds exciting. How do you feel?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I always wanted to give back, especially to upcoming entrepreneurs because my business is an entrepreneur business. People [do] not look at the music business as an entrepreneur business at all times, but everything in this business is entrepreneurship. It's one thing to have the money and not have the knowledge. A lot of times people have great ideas, but don't have a plan. The whole thing about being an entrepreneur is you have to have a plan, and that's what this program teaches.
Complex: How do you plan on doing that?
Bryan-Michael Cox: You know, going to the communities and really giving these kids who have these great ideas the opportunity to [share their work] and in the process teaching them how to run a business. The campaign is meant to get would-be entrepreneurs excited about different types of businesses or giving them a behind-the-scenes peek at how successful people handle their businesses.
Complex: How do you feel about the lack of minority tech start-ups?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I feel like it's a shame, it's embarrassing. Especially among HBCUs, when you have so many bright minds without the opportunities to get the start they need when they graduate. Versus when you go to Ivy League schools [where] all of that is encouraged. There are so many different opportunities—not just one opportunity, but thousands of start-ups at different Ivy League schools or different universities. I feel like among HBCUs, we need to really catch up. We need to catch up from a technology perspective, from a start-up perspective. We just really have to get in the game so our students can have a fair shot at being successful in the world.
Complex: Did you get a chance to see The Social Network? What'd you think?
Bryan-Michael Cox: It was great. But it also proved my point for the 100 Urban Entrepreneurs. I think back to the '90s when I was in college and I went to Clark Atlanta and did not have an email address. They did not give out email addresses at Clark Atlanta in '97, and back then, Harvard had them, Texas A&M had them... all the other schools had them, and we didn't have them. Just imagine if that was a black school and somebody thought of that idea because they had a database of all the emails. That could have been a black student that created that at a black school. But it goes back to the resources. That's one less resource that we didn't have, but we were paying so much money to go to school. We got to get with it. We got to get on top of this, we got to stay on the curve.
Complex: Are you a Twitter or Facebook guy?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Twitter is easy, it's quick. You have to do a lot more to navigate through Facebook. I like Facebook a lot, but I would say I am more a Twitter guy. But I love both. People in my field think that MySpace is slow motion, but MySpace is still pretty big out here. I looked at the numbers last week and I said, Wow. They are still raking in the numbers, I need to jump back on and get back on to the MySpace party. It's been almost two years, but I'm talking to the guy on MySpace today about getting my code and password back. I'm jumping back into the party.
Complex: How do you use Twitter?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I joined Twitter a year ago. In February or March, I got off Twitter because at that time I didn't see the importance of it. I felt like Twitter was more of a place for people to just socialize instead of promoting. After I got off, I realized I could have used that energy and that lane to really promote some positivity. I had 35,000 followers [before I left]. I was like, "Damn those were 30,000 consumers." It kind of twisted my whole thought process so I got back on. I realized that I have a voice that people wanted to hear.
Complex: Are you saying Twitter is more of a promotional tool for you?
Bryan-Michael Cox: The only thing that you might see that is a planned tweet is if I am tweeting about an event or promoting an artist. But really, it is not planned. If I am sitting in front of my computer, I'm like, "Oh, okay, lets tweet about this and attach the link." I try to be spontaneous with the tweeting. It keeps it fun, you never know when or what I may tweet about.
Complex: What did you think about Alicia Keys raising money for her charity through Facebook and Twitter, asking certain A-list celebs to join by using their digital platforms and relying on fans to donate through social media?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I think that [was] brilliant. I mean Alicia Keys is charitable, she's always been charitable and she's always given back. She [has] always found a way to include the music community and celebrities to give to a worthy cause.
Complex: What gadgets are you using these days?
Bryan-Michael Cox: The iPhone 4 and the iPad are great gadgets. I'm stuck on my BlackBerry though. My laptop is the main thing. My laptop and my BlackBerry are the two main things that I am really on. I have a MacBook Pro and a BlackBerry Torch. My BlackBerry is something that I use for business and my daily everything. The iPhone 4, I just like the apps in it... I'm just really getting into it.
Complex: On the giving tip, what advice do you have about starting your own business?
Bryan-Michael Cox: The best thing you can do if you are trying to start a business [is getting the] tools. We are in 2010, and your biggest tool is the Internet. We are not living in the '80s or '90s. We are living in the age of technology. If you want to be in business, you can't be intimidated by the Internet—you have got to dive in there head first. You can find out how to start your business. Everything you need to learn is right there.
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