FeaturedInterviewsDarien Dash: Why Entrepreneurs Should Always Focus on the Future

Darien Dash is the Managing Director of the Movement Management Advisors, and the Director of Dunkin Donuts Franchise Growth Partners.  Mr. Dash has been a prominent entrepreneur for more than 20 years, first dipping his toes into the business world right out of high school when he formed Dash Records with his cousin in the mid-90s.  Then Darien would go on to create DME Interactive Holdings, which became the first African American owned business that...
Chris Morris11 months ago117131 min

Darien Dash is the Managing Director of the Movement Management Advisors, and the Director of Dunkin Donuts Franchise Growth Partners.  Mr. Dash has been a prominent entrepreneur for more than 20 years, first dipping his toes into the business world right out of high school when he formed Dash Records with his cousin in the mid-90s.  Then Darien would go on to create DME Interactive Holdings, which became the first African American owned business that was publicly traded on Wall Street.

During his time at DME Interactive, Darien Dash worked with then President Bill Clinton and HP CEO Carly Fiorina to advance opportunities for urban communities by providing more affordable access to the internet.  Darien would go on to create Places of Color with Carly Fiorina, specifically to provide low-cost computers to minority communities.

In his current role as the Managing Director of The Movement Management Advisors, Darien Dash provides expert insight for clients in Entertainment, Sports, Media, and Cannabis industries.  In fact, Mr. Dash was one of the first major entrepreneurs to act on the long term potential of the legal cannabis industry, including developing brand strategies for THC and CBD related products.  Mr. Dash has also served on many prominent regional, and national boards, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, The New York Media Association, The Jack Brewer Foundation and The National Urban League.

How did you get your start as an entrepreneur?

The first business that I started was with my cousin, Damon. We did a company called Dash entertainment. I went to school in California; I went to USC. So he was in New York, and I was in California, and I think we came together over winter or the summer; it was really in the summer.

And we went to a Heavy D party, album release party, and I basically kicked him saying let’s get into this business, let’s start a production company and get some groups. And then we got connected to Sylvia Rhone for the first time, and Sylvia actually gave us our first shot; she signed both of our artist clubs. This was before Sylvia went to Elektra.

So that was the first business, a formal business that I was ever involved in. And we went from there, and then I stayed in school, and another executive I connected with Clark, brought us this kid from Brooklyn named Jay-z and Damon J were out here, and they were like we want to do Roc-A-Fella Records, I said well for me I want to stay in school. So I stayed in school, and they went and did Roc-A-Fella and the rest is history for them.

Did that decision to stay in school lead to your early interest in computers?

I was a heavy computer user in the sense of when you do your reports in school or your research, everybody’s in the computer center. So when you’re writing your thesis or your term paper, the night before it’s due you’re in the computer center writing your paper. That was the extent of my experience with computers to that point was really just for schoolwork, so I was familiar with them, but I was more into other things in the college like studying for the future.

I was blessed that I was able to be a part of ELP, the Emerging Leaders program at SC. And during my senior year, I had an insight into what was going on in the country. And everybody in 93, the theme in the country was diversity. But when I went into the school, the first thing they made us read was Machiavelli before they taught us about leadership and diversity.

But when you look at technology, and you look at the paradigm shift that was happening at that point, the transfer of wealth has just started becoming more prominent. So we were going from the industrial barons to the technology barons, and this is right when I really kicked off.

I saw that first hand and was studying from the theorists that were thinking it up and selling it. Basically, the people who theorized things and then they go on and talk to the corporate leaders and the government leaders, and they sell them on the theory. People buy-in, once they buy-in, it starts to get implemented. But we’re still seeing the implementation of visions that were coming way back then.

And at that point, I also was reading a lot of books. So I was kind of bouncing myself like trilateralism and new world order and beholding a pale horse, and so I was getting two different perspectives on technology, high tech and no high tech. And it intrigued me to the point where I wanted to be a part of it and learn more about it, and that’s why I went and worked in the cable tech business when I graduated.

How did the cable business shape your understanding of technology consumers?

So I had to come through different modes of understanding when selling this new technology, and being able to convey it to different kinds of people so we could sell a product. Ultimately, my experience with that industry ended because we had come up with a solution to give the boxes away. And cable, what happens is people will disconnect from cable every month at about 3%. And when they were disconnected from the cable, they give it away to offset the people coming off of it.

So you know instant install? You see the commercials of this free cable? They’re giving it to you because people are coming off of it. And they give it to you for a month, you’re going to keep it for three months, and they make their money back from the people that are coming off of it. Well, while they were doing that, I was saying, let’s give away the boxes for free from the start.

Because once the cable box gets in somebody’s house and they had 24 hours of rap, no commercials, no DJs, 24 hours RB, salsa, merengue or classic rock, metal, and all the other channels that were there, they don’t return it. They pay $9 every month, and that’s how that works. That was very successful for us in rural systems, and I wanted to do it outside of West Virginia in Ohio and Kentucky, where I had to go do it.

I wanted to do it in Virginia; I wanted to do it in Baltimore, I wanted to do it in a DC which had predominantly African-American and Hispanic systems. When I wanted to do that, I got pushed back from the corporation saying well; you know these people have bad debt. You know these people have high non-paying, high disconnect rates. It became a capital issue; you know this box costs two hundred fifty-six dollars, you know.

So they basically didn’t want to put the boxes in black people’s houses, because they didn’t want to collect them and they thought it was going to become a bad debt for them. And that went back to what I was learning at school about technology, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, you know either could separate and completely disjoint people who aren’t ready for the revolution.

Or they can empower people who are ready for the revolution, and take them to the next level. So I had to make a decision, and I decided to quit my job. I quit the day after I was married, and I founded my company in a one-bedroom apartment, and that was in 1994.

Did you have a clear vision for your business at this point?

I was blessed. I was given the mission statement, and that became everything we did. That was expanding the hardware and software infrastructure within minority communities.

That was my anointing. God blessed me with a vision, a mission statement, and that’s the first thing I ever wrote when I founded our company on a piece of paper, and that’s what I’ve been following for the last two decades plus.

How did you realize this vision without becoming part of an established corporate entity?

People thought I was crazy, because I was talking about technology, and at one point, talking about the internet.  Back in 1995 when it first started to come from mosaic to being more browser-based in different environments people didn’t know what I was talking about yet. AOL was just beginning to really start to launch anything. So my proposition was a little bit harder with the enhanced software CDs, people could kind of understand, and that’s where I really started was CDs. But as I started to migrate and talk about the web, it was very hard for people to grasp the concept of what I was talking about and understand what the future was.

So it was very difficult. But I know that an entrepreneur has to have the faith to be able to sustain and go through people not believing in him, and not understanding what it is that that person is going through. So you walk by faith and not by sight, that’s how I have to deal with it, by shutting them out. I went underground like people didn’t really hear from me because I knew that I had to craft my vision and understand it before I could execute.

I think I spent about seven months in my house. Like I basically didn’t come outside, unless it was to  talk to somebody or hang out. I didn’t come outside; I stayed in the house and read every day. And all I would do is just read about the business and read about what was going on and put together and formulate my understanding of where we were and where we were going. And once I was able to truly do that and marry it to my mission, that’s when I came out and decided what I wanted to do with my company.

Was this when you created your business plan?

I didn’t know anything about creating a business plan; I didn’t study business in school. You know, in the Emerging Leaders program, I had an opportunity to go to the entrepreneurial side of the school and see how entrepreneurs actually teach classes on entrepreneurialism and see the different facets of it. But I didn’t understand how to write a business plan. I didn’t come from a family where there are lots of businessmen in my family, there’s a businessman, but they weren’t writing business plans.

So I didn’t really understand it, I just had the concept that you get out there and you do it. And that’s where I was coming from. I spent a lot of time writing down my ideas and conceptualizing them and putting them down in a way so I could market it to other people, and try to convey the message to them. But as far as my business plan, I didn’t write a business plan for DME until 1996, that’s when I wrote my first business plan. So I spent a year and a half just moving forward and getting things ready to launch.

Where did you get the money to get your ideas off the ground?

I had to self finance the business for the first four and a half years of DME. And I went from self-financing, literally taking the money out of my pocket, to being a publicly-traded company. So I never went through an angel round; I never went through a venture round; we never did none of that, so I was broke; I mean crazily broke.

And the funny part was that I had left the opportunity with Jay and Damon and they were getting mad paper. And I’m over here broke, stinking broke, building this thing that nobody knows what I’m talking about, so it was really hard. I mean, there would be times I wouldn’t want to go to a meeting because I knew I couldn’t pay for it. But there’ll be times that I didn’t schedule a meeting because I know I didn’t have the money to get on the train. So I know that feeling, I’ve been there.

I was blessed that I had a good strong woman that was on my side, and my wife paid the bills. She had the basic nine, ten dollars an hour job too, and I had a son to support, but she took care of him and paid the bills, and that’s what allowed me to do it. I mean, I will hustle here and there to get money; I’m not that kind of dude. So I would go get money here or there and make sure that I could pay the bills here and there when I could, but I really spent a lot of time just focusing on what I wanted to do. I never deviated from that original mission.

What was the first type of product you launched?

Enhanced CDs that were basically audio CDs, they were called CD plus back then. Audio CDs that played on the computer at the same time. And I figured that my vision was that if we could go in and get the artists to put their content onto these enhanced CDs on the albums, then kids in the street and adults would start to say hmm, I want to see what’s on the CD, maybe I should go by a PC.

That was the first step towards us, trying to inspire people in the community to participate in technology. Because one thing that’s always driven me is knowing deep down inside how technology can make a difference in those communities if you can spark interest in the first place.

How did you transition from CDs to the internet side of the tech business?

With enhanced CDs, that business died pretty fast. I think that business as an industry started to die from 94-95, the whole CD ROM business started to die because it wasn’t selling. So enhanced CDs died quickly thereafter because they were priced wrong.

So the business started to migrate, in fact, the company that I was strategically partnered with back then actually went out of business, closed their doors, and went bankrupt because they didn’t want to take their business model from enhanced CDs or CD plus into the internet. Me personally, I saw the internet jumping off, and I said okay, I’m going to jump on this because this is the future.

So we went and got into the services side of the business. I had to go out and provide a service to people, and build a service side of our company which is a division of our business still today, that goes out and provides a high-quality service.

Who were some of your clients in the early days?

At first we mainly created and helped manage websites. Mostly serving minority owned companies, providing back end support and technical support. I worked with Motown, HBO and Def Jam on smaller technical projects.

How did you end up working with Bill Clinton?

I grew up in those poor neighborhoods, I had experience trying to get people to understand the internet and the future, and the difficulty of it all. I was approached when the Clinton administration wanted to look into Hispanic and black communities getting left behind as technology started to take hold in America. I actually testified in front of a congressional subcommittee on how to close the gap in poorer urban communities.

That’s when I came up with the idea to get cultural icons involved. People like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy could make technology look cool.  Just like with the enhanced CDs if technology looks cool more people are going to want it in their homes.  More people think, wow PCs are a lot more interesting than I thought.  They start to understand what you’re trying to do for them. I also worked with AT&T. When we started the digital divide saw white families accessing the internet at more than twice the rate of minority communities.

When did you switch from technical services to hardware sales?

Working more with technology and trying to bring poor communities into the future I realized we were on the wrong side again.  Just like with the enhanced CDs we needed people to be able to access the content that we were trying to sell. We can’t get people online if they don’t have computers.

That’s when I founded Places of Color with the express goal of providing low cost computers to minority communities. We also got into the service side through AOL, and created a whole network specifically for minorities including news, entertainment and features that I thought were underserved. Things that I saw in the community that weren’t being addressed.

Fast forward 20 years, what are you doing today with the Movement Management Advisors?

I’ve been able to use my contacts from that time to keep up with the media, and the entertainment industry, but now we’re focused on advisory instead of technical services.  I still stay focused on the future, what the next trends are and what people are going to be doing next.  So we provide planning and advisory strategy for athletes, celebrities, media personalities, and financial investors. One of the big focuses in the last few years has been the cannabis industry.

I saw an opportunity as states started to legalize cannabis, and really first off through Colorado. When that shift started coming in I saw a huge opportunity in an untapped market that wasn’t available before. When Colorado hit, the industry just exploded. Suddenly it was this million-dollar juggernaut.

So I started to read again, research, see the potential in the CBD and THC side of things, and now The Movement Management Advisors is at the forefront of advisory for cannabis investments, companies and planning around the industry.

What piece of advice would you give someone that’s looking to follow in your footsteps?

Always think about the future. My whole career has been based on what’s happening next. Always read everything you can. Feel what’s happening next, where everything is going to be going, what’s life going to look like in a few decades.  If you can find something new, get in on ground level, you can become the leader in an essential field. But be prepared to suffer for it and always keep the faith.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris covers lifestyle, Fitness, Business and Tech Stories. He has experience of over 10 years in the Media Industry and worked with reputable news companies in the USA.