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1. What is your business?

PalmPons is a social rewards platform where people earn points toward rewards like —gift cards, cash, travel and online shopping–for engaging with and sharing content creators posts and products on social media. It’s more or less a redemption program for individuals who share a business’s product or online content. If a user re-shares a company’s posts then that person earns points.

Companies are looking for people to engage with their brand, so we created a feed where users can search through content from different companies and then share it with their network on  various social media platforms. If a person shares an image, video, social media post or blog, then they get a certain number of points.

Every time a company posts content for users to share, the company also assigns a certain point value for sharing or engaging with that content. Then over time, users accumulate share points which they can “cash in” for a reward. The rewards are supplied by a manufacturer, kind of similar to a company posting their goods on Amazon. So effectively PalmPons is connecting three groups: influencer (social media poster), retailers (company with a product), or manufacturers (reward supplier).

For businesses to create content share, they add funds their PalmPons account and then that converts to sharePoints—something like a cryptocurrency. So our business clients decide a point value and how many people they hope will share it, and then we calculate a price based on their goals.

The key PalmPons insight is that our creation of platform-specific links enables posts and products to be viewed by the most people. For instance, Facebook has an algorithm that prioritizes what gets shown to their users.  So our links are Facebook links and that means that more people seem them. If a person shares a link on Facebook that doesn’t have the code that Facebook recognizes, it doesn’t get as many views to a person’s network.

Right now, PalmPons is growing in the same way that Instagram and Airbnb did: we are really well-known overseas and just starting to get traction in the United States. We grow through viral adoption, when social media users use our platform, their contacts see us, and then the contacts start to use us.

I have been working on this for eight years, it something I really love. I used to be motivated by the money, but now I work for my freedom.

 

2. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business?  How so?

I credit my wife, Monique, for all of this. It was always an idea I had but didn’t act on. She would say “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.” That challenge and push got me to start writing code and then it consumed me.

 

3. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?

Having an advisory board is a big help. One person in particular, he’s not a tech guy at all. He actually didn’t think he could bring much to the board as a civil engineer. But as a successful business person, his insight is helpful.

He gave me some of the best advice: learn how to turn your business on and off, like a faucet. See right now my business is like a faucet. I can keep turning the faucet to get more water or I can shut it off. But why would I shut it off? When the faucet is on, the work is coming in, but you have to decide what is good, progressive work and what is stagnate.

For me, it’s all about quantifying the parts of the business that work and applying myself so that I’m working towards your goals. It’s also important to read, of course.

 

4. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?

In the beginning, my mother and I bootstrapped PalmPons. But we realized that we needed to start bringing in developers as we started to grow and it takes money to do that. As we grew revenue, this allowed us to take a more traditional funding route like business lines of credit and reinvesting revenue profits back into the business.

 

5. What are some of your current challenges?

I am black man in America–a black man from Detroit, Michigan. That’s the obstacle right there. I am very aware of who I am, where I am, and what I am doing. I was once invited to do a product demo and when I showed up everyone was surprised to see the face behind the product.

My mom told me, “They aren’t ready for a person like you yet.” I was really taken aback by that attitude and mindset. But my mom has a really great perspective and sees life with a long view. I took her comments to heart.

One of the obstacles to getting my business off the ground is prejudice. People have this idea of who an entrepreneur is and who a black man is, and they aren’t one-in-the-same.

 

6. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?

You think there is a lot of forward progress in America, until you face it and there is not. Seeing that I was a black entrepreneur, those at the demos just weren’t as likely to be patrons of my business because of who I was.

Now I have made myself a bit more anonymous, it’s more about the product. That’s why I took my face off the website. It’s like Disney, when you think of Walt Disney and that confidence, you don’t really think about Walt Disney, you think of Mickey Mouse.

Now I have partners all over the world and no one cares that I am black.

 

7. Do you use social media for marketing your business?

My first adopters came through social media, and I still run ads and have a full blown social media calendar. I have scaled back on it to focus more attention on developing features for users and companies, but I still pay attention to it. It’s important to stay in your lane, define your market, define your customer, reach out to your customers, and stay consistent.

 

8. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?

In the next five years, I hope I am in a place where I can replace myself. I want to find a person that I can groom to be me—that’s how you really grow as a business. If I can find someone with the same tenacity, intellect, and passion, then I can really use that as leverage to do more with PalmPons in terms of strategy and next steps.

 

9. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?

I would have stuck with the first business that I started. I had this vision that was really niche providing IT services to doctors. The service was to assist doctors in selecting the proper electronic medical records and practice management systems, based on the business practices, to help them find the “right technology fit”. I really could have scaled that and been all over America.

I tell my daughter all the time, that life is basically three games: hot potato, musical chairs, and tag. Hot potato is money. There is a system and there are rules. If you’re trying to make money, there are things like taxation.  To avoid being caught with the hot potato, properly use the money, REINVEST.  Taxation is a lot less if you are reinvesting and in the long-term you will grow the business because if you continue to reinvest in what works, you will continue to grow.

Business in general is like musical chairs, there are so many people doing the same things, that if you don’t create your own chair, when the music stops, you will be without one.  Build your own business.

And then there’s tag. Tag is basically the people around you—it’s competition, who is modest, who has hubris, who will be reckless.  Avoid those individuals because they want to tag you with their mindset and that will bring you down.  Most people want to “fit in” in life, but you cannot fit in, you need to STAND OUT.  Push through the setbacks and stay tenacious, expect the ups and downs in business and don’t let them knock you off your square.

 

10. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?

Being acknowledged by Google for partnerships and by Inc Magazine for an interview on our platform. Seeing how people are using the platform is the most rewarding. It’s not about having a million users. It’s about servicing my community and making sure they get benefit out of it.

 

Date of Conversation: June 14, 2019