Q&A: Micah



Q. Tell me about yourself.   

A: I’m a native Angeleno and have been fascinated with computers, video games and technology since I was 9 years old. I have over 20 years of interactive production and development experience. I've worked for Atari, AOL, Yahoo, Disney and JPL. I left JPL in 2017 to pursue a career in VR, which ultimately led to the creation of Esqapes.

Q. We have heard on social media and the news ways to solve systemic racism and police brutality. How do you think we can address this complex and multifaceted issue ? 

 Unfortunately this issue doesn’t have a “quick fix” or one-size-fits-all type of solution. 

However, at the core there is a simple solution and it is integration. Even though Jim Crow is technically over, the US (and the world) remains fairly segregated through a number of different ways. Integration on a forced and functional level, is the only way people of different races will get to know, learn about and respect one another on a deeper level. 

My pastor recently shared this statement, “Proximity breeds empathy and distance breeds suspicion” and I completely agree. 

I went to an incredibly diverse high school and it made a lasting impact on me. I had friends of all races and backgrounds, which prepared me somewhat for college and eventually my career. However, this was done through the California Magnet program and busing. In other words, it was forced. 

People may think that forcing these types of programs on people and communities is a bad thing and it encroaches on civil liberties, but the reality is if it wasn’t forced, it would rarely happen on its own. People are tribal by nature and when you’re a minority, the majority will always see you as “the other”. Unless you force the minority to spend significant portions of their life with “the other” they will naturally gravitate toward the comfort of the familiar. Affirmative action, integration and dedicated diversity programs will help change society.

Q. Are you hopeful for the future ? Why or why not ? 
As a black man in 2020, I’m still a skeptic. Even though I enjoyed a very diverse upbringing in LA, the segregation is still so prevalent. I think the millennials and the younger generations are probably more integrated than previous generations, but I still see them repeating the same tribal behaviors. 

Recent articles about diversity in Tech and investment show this to still be true. There are a lot of people that empathize and understand that racism must go away, however their actions must be long term to affect real change.


(Editor's Note: Micah is a friend and former co-worker. I am sharing his recent essay he posted on LinkedIn below. It was  eye opening to learn about the VC world and what he went through as a Black business owner. Image courtesy of Micah.)  

***

Black Man/Black Founder - Thoughts 
By Micah Jackson
(Reposted with permission. First published on LinkedIn 06/02/20)

I was conflicted when writing this sentiment and in some respects I still am. However, my hope is to provide yet another insight into "how" and "why" we must consider significant, active change in the way our country must move forward. Selfishly, it's somewhat cathartic as well.
Last week I was pleased to share a very inspiring update regarding my business (article link) while simultaneously processing yet another "I hope they don't let those cops get off" thought as the news played in the background. I'm from Los Angeles and I remember 1992 all too well. Unfortunately, where I grew up, cops killing and harassing black men was nothing new, it just wasn't regularly captured on video. In fact, the first VR project I produced 'Where Angels Meet' follows the story of a young black man named Marcus, who ultimately dies at the hands of a police officer in broad daylight. (This was released in 2018)
What happened to George Floyd was unacceptable as any human would agree, but what really hurt me personally is something much deeper. It's this implied understanding that as a black man, I don't really matter in this country. Unless I can rap, entertain or do incredible things with a basketball or football, I should just "stay in my place" and not trouble the waters. This is something that I and many other black men deal with, throughout our lives. Each time events like this happen, it's like a puncture in my soul. However, these events aren't just when the latest, race-fueled attack is posted on IG or headlined on Inside Edition. For me, it literally happens every week. The greater issue at hand is the perception that no matter how smart I may be, no matter how much experience I may have, no matter how much wisdom and advice I have imparted, no matter how much talent I may possess, it will never be enough. I will never truly be considered "equal" in this country.
Long before the horrific events that took place in our nation in the subsequent weeks, the suffering of black founders like myself had been going on silently for many years. Since starting my business in 2019, I have been seeking seed investment in order to properly position it for success. In short, I had to use my 401k savings to get it off the ground because there were no other alternatives for me. Prior to opening, I was trying to raise $75,000 and the only options were predatory loans (SBA backed I might add) which accrued 8 – 15% interest within the first 30 days. The other option was taking out a second mortgage on our home. I applied to various accelerators, researched small business grants and tried contacting early-stage investment firms. No response or not interested was what I received. Fair enough, this happens to founders of all colors.
After going all-in and finally opening Esqapes, I thought surely it will be easier to secure investment now that I've built the thing I said I could build. Having read so many stories and articles about how investors want to see if teams are actually capable of building products they pitch, I figured I definitely met that requirement. So, I was off to reach out to investors and VC firms, brimming with hope and optimism. The result more-or-less has been nothing. And when I say nothing, I don't mean investors have told me "No" but rather, no response at all or no way to even contact them. You see, one major hurdle I face as a black founder and black man in America is this dreaded “Warm Introduction” VC requirement which is probably the most racist, institutional practice in the investment world. This code phrase simply means, if you’re not in our circle, don’t bother asking us for money. If America truly wants to embrace change, innovation and support thriving businesses in our communities, the “Warm Introduction” and its implications must go away. Additionally, this false notion that VCs want to back the next generation of great founders is also deeply steeped in institutionalized racism. Why? Because this sentiment is usually reserved (and aimed at) people they already know or have met in their very small circles. Although they may vote blue and drive their Teslas to deliver meals to the less fortunate, in truth they are just as racist as any other person who has the ability to deny opportunity to those who need it.
America will remain the same if the money that fuels it stays within the same hands. America will NEVER be as great as it could be as long as opportunity and risk is reserved for a select few.
As a black man in America, I don’t have friends and family with significant capital, that they can spare to help me start a business. I don’t have a network of Stanford or Wharton alum who can (or are willing to) make introductions on my behalf. I don’t even have an example of a black mentor who has started a business from scratch and managed to get it running to a break-even point. In my America, these are the things that my white counterparts seem to miss or may not be aware of. When black men are viewed as “less than” for so long and not given the opportunities afforded to others, it becomes nearly impossible to see any light or hope at the end of the journey. I’m trying though, but it’s very hard. Much harder than it ever should be in a supposed “land of opportunity” and freedom. 

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