Ep. 8 Empowering the Underprivileged, with Divine
Divine is a disruptor in every sense of the word with his relentless ambition, determination, grind and hustle. He is a visionary, leader and a raw and intuitive entrepreneurial thinker with infectious energy and passion, and relentless focus and drive. A former substantial street hustler, and Hip-Hop/Rap recording artist turned tech entrepreneur, he first appeared on the tech community radar in 2014 when he reached out to famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist (VC) Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder of top-tier VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), on social media via Twitter, and the two eventually became friends. A year later, with only an 8th grade formal education and no tech background, Divine would found his first startup, BLAK Fintech.
Divine has over 15 years of experience in the urban music industry, culture and lifestyle marketing, as well as 2 years in fintech focused on prepaid debit cards, banking and payment systems, and emerging financial technology. His personal redemptive life story and journey into technology has been an inspiration to many. Divine has been featured via such media outlets as Forbes, TechCrunch, Black Enterprise, Entrepreneur, and Inc. Being a formerly incarcerated individual with a decade of incarceration, as an inspirational speaker, Divine now utilizes his life story and journey of redemption to inspire people worldwide.
In 2017, he was selected as a keynote speaker by Georgia State University’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute’s Russell Center, for their Influential Speaker Series, and for the annual event, France Fintech: Revolution held in Paris. He has been featured at numerous events focused on diversity and inclusion in tech, and most recently become a voice against mass incarceration and for criminal justice reform. Divine is currently writing a book on his life, is now a Contributor to Black Enterprise (BE), and was a panelist at the 2018 BE Tech Connext Summit.
Our guest today, Divine, is a rapper and tech entrepreneur passionate about empowering the underprivileged. Many of our guests have uncommon career journeys, but we think we topped them all today!
Divine made the jump into tech when he was serving his last sentence for distributing drugs. While in prison, Divine came across the name ‘Ben Horowitz’, the famed venture capitalist. After reading up on Ben’s work and impact, Divine made it his mission to connect.
After getting out of prison, Divine reached out to the tech mogul. Ben had an appreciation for hip hop and often partook in philanthropic work – this gave Divine hope. While initially tempted to ask Ben to invest in his music, Divine took a different approach. He asked Ben to become his mentor.
Ben agreed to mentor Divine and the two became fast friends. Divine moved to Silicon Valley and completed a micro degree in digital marketing from Udacity. He landed his first job at The Last Mile, a startup dedicated to helping ex-convicts transition to life outside of prison. He then moved on to work for Udacity as a brand ambassador. Following his ambition, Divine founded his first startup, Blak, focused on empowering the underprivileged to build wealth through technology and education.
[1:30] Divine talks about selling drugs and being incarcerated
[3:00] How Divine heard about famed Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ben Horowitz
[5:52] Divine illustrates his early childhood
[9:52] How Divine got in touch with Ben Horowitz
[12:40] What Divine did to start his tech career
[15:50] Lessons Ben Horowitz taught Divine
[17:55] Divine’s first steps in Silicon Valley
[21:00] The program Divine built for Udacity set on empowering the underprivileged
[23:50] Devine on technology and the music industry
[27:40] What inspired Devine to got involved in FinTech
[34:20] Devine’s advice for those looking to break into tech without a tech background
“The last time I was incarcerated I became 100% unsatisfied and I became determined to change my life around once and for all. It takes something dynamic to change the psychological cycle.”
“When I went to prison, one of my thoughts was that I can’t come back home the same individual that I was when I left”
On Ben Horowitz
“When people are philanthropic, they are at least sympathetic to peoples’ plights and causes… If I could reach out to him, he would get my story… identify with it in some way”
“Instead of asking Ben (Horowitz) to invest in my music business, I asked him to mentor me”
“He put money in my kickstarter, and gave me his email address and said if I had any questions to reach out to him. That would eventually lead me to write the song ‘Venture Capitalist.’”
“He flew me out to Silicon Valley and we became fast friends. I eventually entered the tech space.”
“Ben opened the door for me, but his wife Felicia ushered me in.”
On working with Udacity
“Unlock Potential served two things – to give awareness around the power of education and to spread awareness around Udacity’s nanodegree programs ”
On Blak Fintech
“I saw that if I could create something to empower people, especially a group of individuals who have suffered, and who are very, very brand loyal. But they’ve suffered at the hands of these brands and companies where these brands and companies don’t speak to them.”
“Our mission was to build affordable, tech driven personal financial banking products for people who are financially excluded.”
“Our mission was ‘empower the financially excluded to build wealth.”
Ben Horowitz’s book : The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers