How a Newark Native Made His Tech Startup Dreams Come TrueAnthony Frasier, CEO of ABF Creative, details his experiences and lessons learned from being an entrepreneur in residence for Newark Venture Partners, and how hard work and dedication are still opening doors for him today.
September 1, 2021
Anthony Frasier's new podcast, Raising the Game: The Untold Story of Jerry Lawson, about a Black engineer's enduring impact on video games, is out now on Audible.
Luis Guaman: Hi, listeners. This is Newark High School intern Luis Guaman, and here with me today is Anthony Frasier, an entrepreneur in residence for Newark Venture Partners, the CEO of the multiethnic podcast network, ABF Creative, and the author of Don't Dumb Down Your Greatness. Hi, Anthony, and welcome.
Anthony Frasier: Hey, man. Thanks for inviting me, Luis.
LG: You have quite the impressive résumé. Along with being a CEO and author, you have cofounded several successful startups throughout the years, including Playd, Brick City Tech, and the Phat Startup. Could you tell us a bit about the story behind your journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
AF: Well, I will say some of those things you named were failures. I always said the road to success is paved with blocks of failure. You can only become successful if you're out there getting the experience, taking the hits, and that's something I learned the hard way. And so my journey is I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always knew that I wanted to do something great and contribute to society in some way.
Technology really became my go-to tool to be able to do that. You know, it was a great equalizer. When I read about a lot of successful people, they always had money or resources or family members who could help them up. For me, especially as a kid from Newark and being a person of color, I didn't really come from those backgrounds that gave me those shortcuts. So technology was my shortcut. When I figured out that I can code and learn technology and learn programming languages and build websites, and I didn't need any permission to do it, that was it for me. When I discovered I can do those things without permission that's what started me on my journey for entrepreneurship. Technology in general definitely.
LG: I really felt that while reading Don't Dumb Down Your Greatness, especially the lessons that came to motivation and failure, because personally, I know that's a hard topic to deal with in any aspect of life, really. As an aspiring entrepreneur, it can really seem difficult to imagine making a big impact in any industry, but you went ahead and did just that. What advice specifically would you have for young and aspiring entrepreneurs who may not feel so confident in themselves?
AF: You have to flip fear on its head if you're not feeling confident, because I was not always feeling confident, but for me, I just thought about being back at home, being back here in this very house that I'm at right now and not being where I wanted to be. One of the quotes that I thought of was, "If I'm not scared, then the opportunity isn't big enough." Anytime I got fearful, I was like, "Well, you know what? Then I'm supposed to be here." If I wasn't fearful, then I had to question whether or not this is even an opportunity that was large enough for me to go after it.
One of the quotes that I thought of was, "If I'm not scared, then the opportunity isn't big enough." Anytime I got fearful, I was like, "Well, you know what? Then I'm supposed to be here." If I wasn't fearful, then I had to question whether or not this is even an opportunity that was large enough for me to go after it.
Great things should scare you. I would encourage anyone listening, if you have fear, if you're scared, and you're not feeling confident, those are usually signs that you're exactly where you need to be. There are so many people who have done great things that had impostor syndrome, and they still are great. They still become these people that you would never imagine, but in their mind, they felt like, "Hey, I wasn't the right person," so just throw that thought away and just use it as motivation.
LG: I would also like to go back to Don't Dumb Down Your Greatness. I was really surprised because in the beginning, you mentioned that you were like, "Guys, you can steal this book if you want to do that," because you were trying to convey the message.
LG: You wanted to encourage and inspire young Black entrepreneurs. Especially being a Newark native myself, that was really cool. I was like, "Yeah, this dude, he's like trying to help us, us urban people in the city." I love that so much. But mainly, I was just curious—while I was reading the book, I learned a lot, but throughout the process of writing and publishing a book, did you learn anything about yourself?
AF: I learned a lot about myself writing that book. I learned that pressure really does make diamonds. I've heard that quote a lot, "Sometimes pressure creates diamonds." One of the things about the book a lot of people don't know is I wrote it in one month. I wrote the book in one month, and it was a challenge to myself. I announced the book on my birthday and told everybody, "Hey, I'm coming out with a book in one month." I had no words written, nothing planned, no nothing. I just made an announcement just to be silly, but at the risk of looking stupid and looking like I wasn't a man of my word, I executed. I was like, "Whoa. Now I got to deliver because I don't want to be that guy that makes these announcements and doesn't come through." I taught myself that sometimes in life if I really want to get stuff done, I have to put myself on a deadline. I have to put something out there.
In publishing and creating content and being consistent in doing so, you create a lot of luck for yourself.
Public pressure is really a big thing. That's the one thing I learned. If I had to say, "What was the biggest lesson?" that was the biggest lesson. If I had to learn another lesson, it's luck is created by execution. Before I wrote the book, I was like, "Yo, I want to speak on stages. I want to go here. I want do this. I want to do that." A lot of those opportunities just weren't coming to me. The moment I put the book out, I didn't really have to chase any more opportunities. A lot of opportunities started chasing me. In publishing and creating content and being consistent in doing so, you create a lot of luck for yourself. I learned that.
Now anytime I really want to get any kind of publicity or attention on a certain topic, I know I got to start writing. You shouldn't really get caught up with the whole, "Are you a real writer or anything?" I'm definitely not a real writer. I can tell you that right now. I am not this guy who passed writing class with A's or anything like that, but you want to be professional. If you ever do publish a book, make sure you definitely get it copyedited and things of that nature, but just go after it, start writing, start becoming a content creator if you want to open those doors for yourself, and that's the second lesson I learned.
LG: That's definitely encouraging because a lot of people have a lot of stories to tell, but sometimes it can be difficult or hard to tell that, but you did that in a great way. Now I'd like to shift the questions to general entrepreneurship and your experience with Newark Venture Partners, also known as NVP. There are various ways to get investors for companies, private investors, venture capital funds, et cetera, but I'd like to hear about your process for searching for investors and the process behind how you got involved with Newark Venture Partners in particular.
AF: Right. Well, how I got involved with Newark Venture Partners, my company that you named at the beginning of the interview, the Phat Startup, was a company where we did tech conferences all over the country. We would mix hip-hop culture with technology. We used to fill a room with 600 people. We've sold out…
LG: Yeah. Tech 808, I saw that.
AF: Yeah. Tech 808, you've seen the videos, man. We were doing tours. We were all over the country. We were in Atlanta, DC, Oakland, New York City, and in so many different places. One of the investors from NVP was actually a fan, and he knew my story from... Like we said, I was creating content. I was online, interviewing people, creating content, and then one of the investors who was there early on at Newark Venture Partners saw and he was like, "Wow, you're from Newark? We're starting a venture capital fund in Newark. You should come hang out."
That was it. It wasn't like, "Hey, come do this thing and be part of us." It was just like, "Come hang out." I came and I got a chance to meet the team, and we clicked. They liked the initiatives that I was doing and they were like, "Hey, you should be part of what we're doing because a lot of the work that you're already doing, we're trying to do that here in Newark, and you're from Newark." It was the perfect mix. It was the perfect marriage.
From there, I took the opportunity to become the entrepreneur in residence, and I did. We ran conferences in the Newark Venture Partners office. We did conferences at NJIT [New Jersey Institute of Technology] that NVP has sponsored. We do meetups there. This was all pre-COVID, of course. We were doing a lot of different things, and then eventually, I just decided. I was like, "You know what? I want to start my own company now. I had a good time being the entrepreneur in residence. Now I want to put a lot of the things that I've learned into action." That's where ABF Creative got started.
From my commitment to NVP, NVP returned that commitment to me by being my first investor. As far as getting more investors, it really is just all about finding people who understand what you're trying to do. I'm creating an audio company, which is a different kind of tech company. It's not necessarily like we're building an app or some kind of B2B software. We're literally creating podcasts. It's a challenge to always find people who understand what I'm trying to do, but it's not impossible. We're out there, we're talking to investors, and we've even landed an extra investment just last week. It's definitely possible. You just got to be consistent with it.
LG: Congratulations on that. That's so great, especially with all the things we've talked about, all the difficulties that come with owning a company. Being an entrepreneur in residence for Newark Venture Partners, I'm sure that you've seen and experienced your fair share of success stories. I wanted to get your thoughts on, what do you think sets the successful businesses apart from the promising startups that never came to be?
AF: Good question. I think the thing that separates… it's always the founder. It's always the founder, man. It's always the person behind the company because, honestly, you can have the wrong idea, but if you have the wrong founder, he or she wouldn't be able to turn that idea around into something positive or something good. Learning how to pivot, learning to be consistent, learning to be persistent was just one of the biggest things, especially if you're running a startup.
Learning how to pivot, learning to be consistent, learning to be persistent was just one of the biggest things, especially if you're running a startup.
Yeah, I think it always comes down to the mental health of the founder and the persistency of the founder and the consistency of the founder. It always boils down to that. Now, there are times where the founder has everything right, but the market and the timing are just off. I've seen that a lot of times too, where the team is great, the founder is great, but no, they're just a little too early or just needed to wait a little bit longer to let a market catch up to them. Those are unfortunate situations, and you hope that they can weather the storm until things line up for them, but that's the gamble when you're building a startup. That's why it's never really easy, and no one really has the answers.
Investors are smart. Investors are smart, but they're making bets. Investors are making bets. It's still a roll of the dice. Nobody really knows who's going to be successful at the end of the day because I've seen companies that people said, "Oh man, that company will make it," and then that founder ends up in Forbes 30 Under 30, millions in revenue. And then there's founders who they say, "Oh man, they're going to make it. They're so popular and everybody likes them. They're getting all these investors,” and then next year, the company doesn't exist. I've seen it happen, but everybody's taking bets at the end of the day.
LG: Once those bets pay off, and there's a good founder and a good fortune, what should be the next steps in order to try to continue growing and continue being successful?
AF: For me, I think it all comes down to... because everybody's going to answer that question differently. I think it's a great question, but I'll answer that personally. For me, maintaining success is really just about personal development. That's what the book is all about. It's all about just making sure, "Are you sleeping good? Are you still optimistic? Are you spending time with people who love you and you love them? Are you having fun?"
I'd rather just work on developing myself because I know that if I'm the best person that I can be walking up to the office every day, then I'm going to make the best decisions for the company that day too. So it always starts with you.
To me, that's what maintains success. Yeah, there are other business things that you need to be doing to maintain success, like revenue, which is really important, but to me, I won't become the kind of person who can generate revenue if I'm the kind of person who's always upset or angry, who's always anxious, who's always... To me, I'd rather just work on developing myself because I know that if I'm the best person that I can be walking up to the office every day, then I'm going to make the best decisions for the company that day too. So it always starts with you.
LG: Yeah. That relates to being a good leader, because I know being a CEO and running companies, you've had to have multiple years of experience leading and making tough decisions, really. I wanted to get your thoughts on what you think it takes to be a good leader.
AF: Empathy. I think it takes empathy. I think a leader should be stern, but a leader should also have a heart. I don't believe in leading where you don't take the time to understand the people that you're actually leading and making decisions for. To me, empathy is the biggest thing. Emotional intelligence is really big, just being able to read people, read body language. Be a good communicator. Sometimes people have the right things and the right thoughts in mind, but the words don't match the thoughts. The words don't match the actions. Being a good communicator has always been something that I place a lot of emphasis on, a lot of energy on. So yeah, that’s what I really—I make it sound so simple. It's not really that simple, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to do those simple things because simple doesn't mean easy.
LG: Definitely. You can take that away from your story, your company. You've especially talked about that in Don't Dumb Down Your Greatness. You said, "Just be consistent, and follow the simple rules, and success will come next."
AF: And I would like to say that even I struggle. Like I said, simple doesn't mean easy. Even though I wrote those words, those are still things that are still challenging to be consistent in even for me, even though I wrote those words. Just keep that in mind.
LG: So what's next for Anthony Frasier? Do you have any future plans you could reveal to us?
AF: Yeah. ABF Creative, which is my podcast company, we are developing amazing, great, interesting podcasts. We have some children's podcasts that we're developing that I'm excited about. We have African folktales, East Indian folktales, Latin folktales coming out. We have a very popular folktale series on Apple and all the different platforms and soon to be on Audible. We're also actually developing and producing an Audible series called Raising the Game. It's about a Black engineer named Jerry Lawson, who created the first cartridge-based video game console. This was before Nintendo, and this was before Atari. We want to tell his story because we feel like it's missing from the great American stories of different great American inventors out there. We're excited about that story, and it's coming out on Audible.
LG: I know some of listeners here definitely would be excited, and they probably took away a lot of information from this interview, just as I have. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I want to wish you continued success in innovating the tech industry and your future endeavors, and with your mission of impacting 100 million people of color through ABF Creative.
AF: Hey, man, you keep going, man. Keep being consistent. Keep creating content like this. Even when this period of your life is over, don't ever stop creating. If you want to be lucky, just create.
LG: Thank you.
Editor's note: This post was originally published on December 21, 2020.