Rashaun Williams is an experienced investor, advisor, and entrepreneur. He’s started a company with hip-hop icon Nas and developed deep ties in the sports and entertainment world.
Rashaun is starting a fund called the MVP All-Star Fund with Manhattan Venture Partners. He envisions a future where athletes and entertainers can provide innovative black businesses with financial support to grow and thrive.
We had the opportunity to speak with Rashaun Williams.
Find out how he is using over fifteen years of experience to give back to his community.
Blavity: What motivates you? How do you measure success?
RW: There are two things. The first focus is investing in some of the fastest growing tech companies in the world and helping those companies grow. My second focus is helping athletes and entertainers in the inner-city get exposure to technology and investing. I’ve been doing that for 15 years.
Blavity: Did you ever think you’d fail?
RW: I started from failure. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I’m sure you’ve read the news. When I was a child it was worse. I came from an environment where drugs and gangs were in high volume. I was the only one from my neighborhood to graduate from college. I was running away from that so my perspective is different than most. I was motivated to get away - to escape selling drugs and going to prison was a win for me. I never imagined failure because I was born into it. I rose out of that and I haven’t turned around since then.
Blavity: What problems does your business solve?
RW: I recently joined Manhattan Venture Partners (MVP) as a general partner of the MVP All-Star Fund. The problems that they solve are clinical. The goal is to give our community access to the fastest growing unicorns in the world. Prior to the All-Star Fund, there was no place that our athletes and entertainers could go to get a portfolio of unicorns all at once. Another problem the fund solves is diversification. The All-Star Fund helps clients access a diverse portfolio instantly. We also do research on the top unicorns in the world. We have some of the top analysts in the space doing research for our clients. There are not a lot of places you can go to for that.
Blavity: With your career excelling at this rate, how do you balance life with your career with your personal life?
RW: There is really no distinction between my career and my personal life anymore. I worked to blur the lines for over a decade. When I am educating athletes and entertainers about investing in technology and about careers in technology I do it as a person and a friend. Professionally, I do the same thing. I’m helping my investors get an education and have access to the hottest names in Silicon Valley. Those two things are one in the same for me.
Blavity: What's Nas like? Did you fan out when you met him? Are you a fan of his work?
RW: It was amazing. I’ve worked with 20-30 artists that are like Nas. The relationship I had with Nas went a little deeper than some of the other guys because we created a venture capital fund. There are 20-30 other guys I work with and we are just doing deals. For me, it’s great because it’s a part of my overall thesis. I’m trying to bring the leaders in sports and entertainment together and let them get involved in the technology industry. I actively seek out guys who have expressed interest in tech and offer my expertise. I help them become investors, raise capital and fund companies.
Working with Nas was amazing because he is one of the most real MCs of all time. He’s a very smart guy. He’s multi-talented. He’s not just a great artist but he’s conscious, woke, community-oriented, entrepreneurial and genuine. I have this saying, “If I won’t do it for free, I won’t do it for a fee.” I feel like Nas and I share that sentiment.
Blavity: What's the best advice you've ever received?
RW: The first day I arrived at Morehouse I had to memorize a quote by Benjamin E. Mays. I’ve taken this advice with me. “It’s far better to dare for mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, although checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor souls who know neither glory or defeat.” That to me is saying to swing without fear. Strike out. It’s ok to lose. It’s far better to try to accomplish something amazing than to never take that risk at all. For me, I’ve been living my life that way. There’s no one else that does what I do out here. That’s why I can say “here’s the blueprint”. I’m mentoring a dozen young people to come after me and do the same thing.
Blavity: What advice would you give your younger self?
RW: I would have become an investor a lot sooner in my career as opposed to an advisor. The blueprint for me is Robert Smith. He’s the richest black man in America. He worked at Goldman Sachs and then started his own firm. Now he is the richest black man in America. I would have started investing much sooner as opposed to helping other people invest.
Blavity: How do you feel when you're the only black person in the room?
RW: I’ve always been the only black person in the room. I’ve also been the only young person, the only person from the south side of Chicago, and the only person who listened to hip-hop. There were a lot of firsts for me. It was easier for me to handle the stress than other people I’ve met. I was fortunate enough to be educated at Morehouse. Morehouse instilled a real sense of pride in all of their students. I learned about black empowerment and my history. That experience provided me with the inner strength to walk proudly and stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. I was never insecure of who I was. Now I am not the only black person in the room and I am creating opportunities for others.
Photo: Rashaun Williams
Blavity: Outside of venture capital, are there other professional endeavors you'd like to explore?
RW: I have a non-profit called the Kemet Institute where I teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship. I’ve been teaching in inner cities, churches, and schools for over 15 years. I also mentor a group of young investment bankers and technologists. I teach them what I know and help them get their careers to the next level. We meet every month to exchange ideas and build a strong network.
Blavity: Defend or refute: The tech industry values diversity?
RW: The tech industry values innovation and profits. I think individuals value diversity but only a select few. Wall Street and Silicon Valley do not value diversity. The tech industry is focused on efficiency. If a diverse candidate comes and offers innovation or financial returns then great. A diverse candidate will not always be valued, though. The focus should be creating opportunities for diverse candidates to bring innovation and financial return. Diverse candidates need the opportunity to compete with everyone else. They shouldn’t be put in an environment where they cannot drive innovation or returns.
Blavity: What are your biggest obstacles?
RW: I have a big task ahead of me. I am trying to get black tech funded in early stages so our people can compete and have financial returns for investors. Other communities have family and friends they can rely on to raise the money. They can afford to quit their jobs and take risks on their companies. I want to figure out how to source and finance black tech.
Blavity: How can a regular Marcus or Kayla get to your level?
RW: I worked on Wall Street to develop a skill set. I worked in one of the largest firms in the world and learned how to invest. I would tell others to develop their skillset, do their analysis, and understand how things work. Eventually, you can transition over to this career. I would recommend going out and becoming an expert and eventually, people will come to you.
Blavity: Who do you want to make proud?
RW: I work behind the scenes. I never want the attention or focus. I want my investors to have great returns on the companies we invest in together. I also want entrepreneurs to build amazing businesses for the community. I want to make my people and my community proud.
Rashaun helps fund technology that will empower black millennials. He also offers free mentorship and advice to diverse, Silicon Beach-based startups and active investors. Want to learn more about Rashaun Williams? Access his work here.