Don’t let anyone fool you. Hip-Hop is a billion dollar business with a bunch of folk in the culture not benefiting from its prosperity. It is not only the side-way record contracts and 360 deals gone wild that have artists on the outside of various wealth-building opportunities in rap music that prevents them from caking out. It is not even the aggrandizement of balleration (excessive amount of jewelry, clothes, cars and other fly stuff) that keeps them out of those really big money conversations. It is the lack of focus on portfolio diversity and access to the real money rooms. Morehouse man and former Wall Street executive, Rashaun Williams identified a way to not only shift the Baller Mindset to a Mogul Mindset with a core program and visionary knack for investment.
Who is Rashaun Williams? He is the investment unicorn that was the architect of Nas’ Queensbridge Venture Partners and the founder of the Kemet Institute. Now the founder and head honcho at the MVP All-Star Fund (Manhattan Venture Partners), he has athletes like Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, and Patrick Ewing partnering up with him.
The Source Magazine linked up with this power player to tap into his secret and further explore the magic that has made rappers like Nas one of the most sought-after venture capitalist in the game.
The Source: How do you explain venture capitalism to the average guy on the street corner?
Rashaun Williams: So from a practical standpoint there is no difference in being a venture capitalist, then the dudes that would come around the block and drop off a whole stack of drugs to 20 different kids. And whichever is the one that brings the most money back is going to be “that guy” that continues to be invested in. Some are going to rise to the top and some are going to fizzle. So what a VC is trying to do is to identify what makes a company successful. Then they say who can I find and what business model do they have that I can invest in them early and then I can help them become successful. So a VC is really just a person that is trying to do two main things: They pick companies that they think are going to be successful and then they poke them in the way that they should go so that they can become successful. We pick and we poke.
Now in order to keep picking companies, I need to raise money from people. It may be my own money. It may be some of my money and others, but people are investing their money with me because I am showing them that I have strategy to pick these companies and a technique to help these companies grow. So they look at my track record and they say ‘Rashaun has picked some winners. I want to invest with Rashaun.’
I never go into details about specific individuals’ portfolios and what they have done. However, I do go into details about what I do for the culture, what I do with investments and how I create investors.
That is interesting.
Yes, I make these guys investors (sometimes against their own will). They don’t want to be investors. They just want to be great at what they are doing. They see everyone getting money and they are like “How is Nas able to get all this money? He is not smarter than me!” And what all of them know, is that there is always someone behind the scene doing the work. There is someone behind Lebron. There is someone behind Kobe. There is somebody behind Kevin Durant. And then there is someone behind Nas, T.I. and all these other of guys. So I am out there turning guys into investors and letting them be great. I don’t need to be in the forefront. I don’t because I am just an investor and I don’t benefit from being in the forefront. I am happy to elaborate on what I have been doing for the last eight years with sports, entertainment, and tech. It is becoming more popular now but when I started doing this eight years ago, I couldn’t even convince these guys to put money into companies. They all wanted money out. Over the last few years, people are starting to see the results of becoming investors. Now my job is easier today than it was back then.
Let’s start there. What made you leave your cushy Wall Street job to engage the culture in this way? When did you get the light bulb and said: “Hey let me speak to them and redirect some of this wasteful money that they have?” How did you discourage them from buying all these gold chains and encourage them to do something for the community that they come out of?
In 2001, I started a non-profit called the Kemet Institute and its goal was to teach people in our community about financial literacy and how to invest. I was basically taking everything I was learning on Wall Street and giving it back to the community. It took me 12 years to figure out how to combine the two things: The one thing I was really good at “investment” and the other thing I was really passionate about “my own community.” I figured out how to blend the two. What I do now is serve as an active investor, but I also teach and coach others in the culture how to also invest. What I love most about that is that now the culture is shifting to the mindset of “I want to be an owner, instead of a consumer.” It has started in this generation to trickle down to the kids. Everyone wants to be the founder of a company. Everyone wants to be a VC (Venture Capitalist). This cultural shifts started with the leaders in our culture.
Why do you think that is?
I attribute it to a few things making it a little easier. Look at Beats by Dre and the company getting acquired by Apple, Jessica Alba with the Honest company or 50 Cent and his Vitamin water. Also look at what we did with Queens Bridge. Our culture is a “show me” culture. You see people who are leaders in our industry and they see them making millions and billions of dollars by either founding their own company or investing in one and they want a piece of it. That’s why I left Wall Street. I wanted to focus on investing instead of advising. Most of my clients were billion dollar, white, institutional and family office clients. I wanted to not only work with them but work with my own community. I wanted to offer my community the same type of investment advice that I was offering my clients at Goldman Sachs.
Because we weren’t getting that level of access to education. Just go to my Instagram and you will wonder why there aren’t 50 other Black VCs out there helping Black investors and founders learn how to invest. Not only invest, but are there no other Black VCs teaching our people how to raise money. I am working to bridge this gap between pop culture, technology and investing. That is why I left Wall Street.
You are different from other entertainment execs in this space (Troy Carter, Steve Stoute) because you bring something that they lack. While they bring their entertainment knowledge to the table, you bring finance to the table. Would that be accurate?
Yes. I would not say that these guys are not as sophisticated as I am, but we all have a different approach to the same goal. I never sat down and spoken to them about their strategies, but my approach is two-fold. My first approach is education first. Everything that I do and everything I learn comes from a space of educating people. And what makes me different is that you can see this for free. You can see it in things I say in the press. You can see it on my IG. You can see it on YouTube. You can see it on my website. Most people know me because I have taught them something about investing in tech. Now, very few people have actually invested with me. So that is evidence of how I first lead with education.
Are there any stories of athletes or entertainers that made you sit back and say, I got to help them? When you look at the landscape are you thinking that you have to educate them first because they are the leaders in culture?
Celebrities and Influencers are at the pinnacle of our culture/ community. There is value across the board. I have taught sixth graders and college students, but I have also taught nurses and doctors. These are all people that look like us. What we all have in common is that we were not taught financial literacy. So when you consider celebrities, of course, they get most of the attention, but the work that I have done goes far beyond athletes and entertainers. I did not look at our culture and see a particular thing and said, this thing has sparked an interest. It was more so watching other cultures make billions of dollars every year and watching how they institutionalized the process of making billions of dollars. By doing that, I noticed how we did not have that. I thought to myself, look how successful they are and how they transferred this through generations.
The same way that we transfer NBA players through generations, we transfer Hip-Hop artists, R&B singers through generations. There is no coincident that Zion Williamson is going to be the next Lebron. That thing has been worked on for decades (maybe before he was even born). That system is not only culturally celebrated but there are systems in place like the AAU, high school, colleges, scouts, they will have you carrying a basketball all around all day. That young man because cool and celebrated in our community but in other culture, other things are celebrated. I am hoping I can help our culture also celebrate finance and education. And who better to focus on that the leaders of our culture.
Where do you teach? At the Kemet Institute campus?
Kemet like I said earlier Kemet is a 501 c3 non-profit. We provide services to schools and to individuals. Anyone can learn from this institute. We came up with a concept called “L.I.F.E Schools.” L.I.F.E. stands for Learning Integrating Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship and we go to schools and help them infuse financial literacy and entrepreneurship into their curriculum.
You have to meet our culture where they are. If I want to talk about finance, I can’t go into the schools to talk straight. These young people are like “I grew up on the South-side of Chicago and I had to worry about getting home and not eating that night.” So someone sitting there talking to me about stocks and bonds is just a waste of my time.
The young people you teach?
Yes. Where are all of these kids? They are in the digital media space and so I meet them there and I speak to them in a language that they speak. I also go to the schools and I look like them. You can’t be a person on the outside of the culture, trying to come in and influence. You have to meet them where they are.
My first class that I taught in the Kemet Institute was on 88th and Princeton on the South-side of Chicago to a group of seven kids that were selling drugs. That is the neighborhood I grew up in and I stood out there with those young people. I taught them how finance and investments work and I spoke to them in the language that they spoke. So when you look at my social, you will see most of them are founders and investors and I am speaking to them in their language. But if you look at my Linkedin, you will see something completely different group of people and I still speak to them in their language. When I speak at Villanova, it is different from when I speak at Morehouse. Meeting them where they are, giving them what I know they need and breaking it down so that it is simple and relatable has always been my approach.
Though you have worked with Nas and his QBVP, we see that you have gone against investing in entertainment companies. There are a lot of practical things. Is that a strategy?
Yes. There is no entertainment strategy when it comes to investing. Like Queensbridge Venture Partners was not a fund we set up to invest in entertainment companies. To go deeper, here is the strategy for Queens Bridge. We recognized that out of all the companies that were making money in Silicon Valley, it was the same 20 investors that was investing in them. Most people don’t notice that. But if I asked you, out of all of the Black dudes that go to the NBA, “What schools did they come from?” You could probably 10 to 20 schools that they keep coming from. They keep coming from Duke. They keep coming from North Carolina. It’s the same 20 college programs that all the key people that get drafted come from. Well in Silicon Valley it is even worst: The same 20 VCs that keep making all these unicorns. So our strategy with Queens Bridge was to invest with the winners. So we didn’t necessarily have a sector that we were focused on. We weren’t the smartest guys out there trying to find the next artificial intelligence. That wasn’t our strategy. Our strategy was to co-invest with the companies and VC firms that were making all of the winners.
Now here is the part, that is probably most important to The Source’s readers: Why would they let us co-invest vs. anyone else?
The answer to that is “the culture.” The only two groups that get access to the best companies in the world are top 20 venture capital firms and guess who else… athletes and entertainers (who mostly happen to be Black!). You can see what my incentive is in being a VC (that in addition to helping my who community). Also, if I wanted to get my own money into the best deals in the country, I have to educate, support and encourage all of these athletes and entertainers to invest, so that we can all invest together.
Is that how this works when you see a celebrity with these opportunities?
Often times you will see one celebrity that is an investor in a deal, but there really will be 25 of them really investing behind him. You just will never know. That’s what we are doing. We are using the influence of the Hip-Hop culture to get into the best deals. We are not trying to compete with those top 20 VCs, we are trying to get a piece of the pie. We are not going to fight over 5% of returns, we are trying to get into the 95% of returns.
Reverend Run used to say that you can’t help the poor if you are one of them.
Yes, that’s one angle. We do want to make money. But I don’t even want to look at it from the making money side. We are going to make money either way. These artists and entertainers are going to make money, so no we are not solely driven by making money. What I think the bigger motivation is that we know that pop culture, our culture, is a strong contributor to these companies being worth billions of dollars. We haven’t gotten a piece of that. We want a piece of that.
Would Beats by Dre be worth two billion dollars to Apple had it not been for our culture? Would Spotify not be worth 25 billion dollars had it not been for our culture? I don’t think so. All of these investors that make billions of dollars of this (and they make that every single year) less than .00001 of those billions have been people from our culture. Ultimately, what we are trying to do is get a piece of this thing that we are helping to create.
Closing out: What are three things that the Hip-Hop community should know about this space?
The first thing I would say is if they are not winning in tech, it is because they have too many Urkels on their team. So their “wins” are low. (Shout out to Kanye West). What tends to happen is that people tend to get all of these deals and from all these people who are not investors, who are not experienced in this and then they keep losing money.
Secondly, speaking of wins, the reason why people come to me is because they want a winning strategy. I have a long track record of 18 years of winning in this space. So I give that track record to those dudes for free. Here is how we win. For me, the reason I do it is the same reason why basketball players do clinics in their communities. They are teaching kids how to play basketball because it is easy for them (they have played basketball their whole lives). I am like a tech coach and I am helping everyone create a winning strategy.
Third, you have to be a practitioner and not a reporter. Be an expert. I am not on IG passing on information that I read from someplace else, this is actually what I do for a living. These are companies that I put my own money into. This is also what I do every day. This is also the only thing that I have ever done.
Those are the top three things I would want people to know.