At only 28 years old, Everette Taylor has many titles. He has been named Forbes 30 Under 30, one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans, is the founder and CEO of MilliSense, cofounder of GrowthHackers, and most recently PopSocial which reported bringing in over $2 million in revenue in its first year.
But before all of this Everette Taylor was a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha.
We at Watch The Yard sat down with the serial entrepreneur to talk about growing businesses, establishing brands, making money and how joining a Black fraternity as an undergrad at Virginia Tech helped mold him into who he is today.
When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and how did you get started?
For me, it was a tale of two parts. The first being laid off when I was teenager – which was one of the factors that led to me to becoming homeless. I realized quickly that when you put your livelihood in the hands of another, it could be taken away at any given time. At that moment I knew once I was capable, I did not want to ever be totally reliant on anyone other than myself.
If the first incident was the gasoline, the second was the fire. I was 19 years old and had to drop out of college to help out back home. When I came back, I used LinkedIn for the first time and started to apply for jobs. Although I was young, I had 5 years of working experience (took my first marketing job at 14). Despite having solid experience and applying to entry-level roles, no one was giving me an opportunity. My theory was that it had nothing to do with my abilities/experience but something else.
Naturally the marketer in me wanted to test this hypothesis, so I created a fake LinkedIn with a different name and a picture of a white guy. Same resume and experience. Tested it towards 10 companies that I didn’t receive a response from and 7 out of those 10 companies reached back out to me. That was the final straw for me.
A couple months later I started my first company in the event marketing space aka throwing parties. I combined that with a tech component and built ticketing software with a couple guys I met my freshman year at Virginia Tech. I went through a lot of growing pains. Learning how to establish an LLC, taxes/accounting, managing people, etc. We fortunately sold the company a couple years later.
Can you give us your career timeline?
After selling the first company, I went back to Virginia Tech to try to finish my degree and also during that time pledged Alpha. But soon realized that the classroom just wasn’t for me and if it wasn’t for Alpha – I wouldn’t even still be in school. The pull to get back into the world of entrepreneurship and tech was strong. I got the opportunity to be the head of marketing for a new tech startup called Qualaroo and simultaneously start a new company called GrowthHackers. The catch was, I would have to drop out of college with only a few classes left to take that summer. I felt my life heading towards a direction I didn’t want it to by staying in school so I took the leap and moved to California.
I became Head of Marketing for the startup Qualaroo which was eventually acquired and co-founded the company GrowthHackers where I served as VP of Marketing & Growth,. The success of those two companies allowed me to start the marketing firm MilliSense where I served as CEO and then become the CMO of the successful e-commerce company StickerMule at the age of 25 (youngest exec there ever).
While serving as CMO of StickerMule, I was recruited to lead marketing for some new projects at Microsoft while also being allowed to continue to build MilliSense. But after a while, the startup and entrepreneur bug got to me again. I became the CMO of Skurt, an on-demand rental car startup and shortly thereafter started the social media software company PopSocial where I now serve as CEO.
Most recently, Skurt was acquired by Fair.com and I helped launch a new media company called BESE with Zoe Saldana to highlight the stories of the diverse US population that are typically unheard. I also am working on the company Hayver, an app to prevent drug and alcohol addiction which will be powered by blockchain technology. We’re releasing our own crypto coin called the Duitcoin. Also currently an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Cross Culture Ventures working on new projects.
You sold your first company when you were 21 and have gone on to lead marketing for two other companies who were sold. How much of serial entrepreneurship is luck and how much is skill?
It really all starts with a great product. The three companies which were acquired were all primarily acquired due to the technology built first. Yes the customer bases we grew were also appealing but it all came down to having great tech built.
I wouldn’t want to call the products engineers spend their time building luck, nor the tedious time spent doing customer discovery and making sure that you have product/market fit (a product that people want/need in the market) but I will say building a successful company does take a lot of luck and the dominos rolling your way. At the end of the day, no entrepreneur really knows what they’re doing when they get started – its all about how quickly you can learn from your mistakes and yes getting lucky.
What made you first interested in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.?
The first person to ever talk to me about college was an Alpha. He worked alongside the company I worked for as a teenager and he would wear the Alpha lanyard proudly. He told about his college stories – never speaking much about Alpha but he made me believe college was actually a reality for me. I looked up to him and wanted to be just like him.
I also love history, and the fact that so many men throughout history I looked up to belonged to this organization peaked my curiosity.
I still really had no idea what fraternities were or greek life entailed by the time I got to campus as I was the first person in my family to go to college. (laughs) But I learned quickly.
You were the president of your chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha before you began your successful career in the startup world. What did you learn as president of your chapter that helped you succeed in the startup world?
Ah man, where do I start.
I learned that as a leader, people are going to doubt you and you have to push through and do what’s best for the organization. Even if some people don’t see the vision. That’s not shade in anyway. Dissenting opinions are healthy but as a leader you cannot let that break you, even in the hardest of times.
The second would be that marketing/branding is everything. The truth is, no fraternity or sorority is better than the other but how those orgs are perceived on individual campuses are. I learned quickly the importance of marketing/branding when it came to our events and our chapter in general. Ask anyone, I was maniacal when it came to detail and making sure we marketed ourselves appropriately and that led us to being extremely successful winning organization of the year for the entire university – not just the NPHC or Greek community.
It also taught me to be more comfortable working with and around white people or just people who were different than I. I also served as president of the NPHC which required me to be in meetings with the other greek councils. I built relationships/friendships and put together events/worked with them. It was super important to my development and growth especially because the world of tech isn’t very diverse at all. Despite going to a PWI, as a black student it was easy to stay in the bubble of the black community once you left class. It was important for me to get that experience.
Lastly it taught what it means to really grind. Between being a full-time student, working a job and leading a chapter – I really had to manage my time well and grind my ass off. A lot of late nights and sleepless hours. That prepared me for the rigors of building a startup.
What is your favorite memory as an undergraduate member of Alpha Phi Alpha?
(laughs) It was definitely surrounded by controversy amongst the black greek community at large but it was the Greek Unity Stroll Off that I put together. In all honesty it wasn’t even originally my idea, it was that of my prophyte Bobby Brown who understood how powerful the event could be. Unfortunately he graduated before he could bring it fruition.
The event brought together the D9 along with the multicultural sorority Mu Sigma Upsilon and the latin sorority Sigma Iota Alpha with the predominantly white fraternities and sororities on campus. Each fraternity and sorority would be teamed up with members of different D9 orgs (or the multicultural or latin sorority) and be taught how to stroll. Each organization also had to pay a participation fee which would go to March of Dimes and had to individually raise money for the organization as a competition as well.
To paint a picture for you, like most PWI campuses – the black/latino and white communities don’t really interact much. We both stay in our separate lanes and that is also apparent with black and white greek organizations. Also Virginia Tech where it took place is located in Southwest Virginia, not exactly the most progressive area in America.
Not only was it extremely fun and entertaining but never during my time at Virginia Tech did I see the black and white communities interact the way that they did that day and the way it brought people together. It genuinely felt great – no matter some of the backlash we received. You truly couldn’t understand unless you were there and we raised a bunch of money for a great cause.
You have accomplishments on accomplishments, what are you most proud of in your career so far?
My mom telling me she was proud of me and that I made the right decision.
Mothers are naturally protective and can be averse to their children taking risks. I really took a leap of faith dropping out of college and chasing my dream in California. And her saying that means the world to me, more than any accomplishment ever could.
As someone considered a marketing expert in the startup space, you have a wealth of knowledge on branding. What is one tip you have for a black fraternity/sorority chapter looking to improve their branding.
Sign up for PopSocial (laughs) but no really… understanding the importance of building an audience on social media is important for any organization, even a college fraternity/sorority is important.
But in terms of a tip around branding, I would say taking pride in the things you produce. Don’t half ass things. All your flyers, videos, events, etc has to be on point and done at a high quality. I can’t tell you how many terrible Greek flyers I’ve seen (haha). It should be something you’re proud of and put time/thought into. Run your org like its a business.
Why is it important to have a digital platform like Watch The Yard at this moment of history?
Black greek life is Black History, point blank period. And this platform is important to shedding light on that piece of our history. It also connects us with our past and also our future.
For the undergrads, it’s important to see what’s going on at other campuses around the country. I know it served as motivation and inspiration for me during my time as an undergrad.
After leaving college, it’s easy to get in a rut. To see the people that this platform highlights reminds people that they can also make it. That inspiration is important to see our peers and people who have had similar experiences succeed the way they do.
Lastly it’s something to be proud of. With so much negativity about our community in the media, it’s nice to be able to go to a platform that I know I will always see something that makes me feel good and that I can be proud of. We need to highlight the positivity happening in our communities.
What does being an Alpha Man mean to you?
It’s a part of who I am but doesn’t define who I am. I think it’s important to make that distinction. To understand that you represent something much bigger than yourself but that you ultimately define who you are.
Still it sets a high standard that I as an Alpha Man must continuously seek to sustain. It means that even though most people you come across won’t know about your affiliation, you still continue to live your life to the values that the fraternity holds you and you represent it the right way.
Because at the end of the day, being an Alpha Man isn’t about recognition – its about being the best possible man you can be and positively affecting the world. And passing down that legacy to future brothers.
What can black greeks who are established in entrepreneurship do to help the next generation?
Giving your time. Mentorship and being a resource for young aspiring entrepreneurs is critical. Finding out how to do it at scale is even better, for example organizations like CODE2040.
Also we have to start putting our money back into the community through investing in companies with black/brown founders. Venture capital firms like Backstage Capital and Cross Culture Ventures is doing a great job in investing into diverse founders but we need more.
Lastly hire diverse people at your companies. The best way to learn how to be an entrepreneur is from great entrepreneurs themselves.
You have built companies that are worth millions of dollars. What is the next move for Everette Taylor?
Besides managing all the companies and current projects I’m working on, I’m also an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Cross Culture Ventures where I hope to come up with THE idea. When I say THE idea, I mean the one that I can truly build my legacy upon.
Black people are starting seeing success in the tech community as entrepreneurs but there still hasn’t been a billion dollar exit or IPO yet.
I want to build something that’s going to go on long after I’m dead and gone and creates a legacy that will inspire more black entrepreneurs. Also I want to show that we as black people can create big scalable tech companies like the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world.
I speak all the time about the wealth creation that the exits of the acquisitions and IPOs of these billion dollar white owned and mostly white employed companies make. These creates companies create hundreds of millionaires who go out there and start more companies and invest in other companies.
I want to be able to do that for us.
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