What is innovation to you?

Welcome to BLK Innovators. A platform for conversations with the most innovative minds in the black community!

Brian Gerrard,           Co-Founder, BAE & Director Product Marketing, The Meet Group

Brian Gerrard, Co-Founder, BAE & Director Product Marketing, The Meet Group

Terrence Nelson: With Tagged’s acquisition of BAE do you feel the communal experience that users were accustomed to with BAE will be affected in anyway?

Brian Gerrard: With the acquisition BAE has been removed from the App store and those users have been brought into Tagged.  With that move they are joining a similar but larger community. The whole purpose of this was to connect people for us, it was about connecting black folks all over the world. Tagged with 330 million plus users would be a natural fit with BAE so we were excited to bring more to them.

Nelson: BAE was born out of conversation with Justin Gerrard (Brian’s brother) & Jordan Kunzika and some other like minded entrepreneurs. Do you feel that is the best way to develop a business?

Gerrard: Technology has definitely lowered the barrier to entrepreneurship because now all you need is an idea and the internet and you can have a website up for a very low cost per month. Versus in the past when business was more brick and mortar and maybe you needed more bank loans or investors. Historically businesses have been started have been on the back of a napkin or over drinks with friends and that’s kind of the origin story with BAE. One surrounding myself with people who were like minded entrepreneurs, black folks who wanted to make things to change the world. Then also making a paradigm shift mentally where you realize, if anything is going to be done then you're going to have to be the one to do it.  

Nelson: Do you think the innovation space has been filled with entrepreneurs that are throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks or individuals actually taking the time to develop companies?

Gerrard: This is a topic people need to be much more honest with themselves about.  I would say 90% of entrepreneurs that I meet, if I ask them 6 months from now where there business is it hasn't gone beyond the idea phase. Unfortunately people like to walk and talk around with a great idea, everybody has a great idea but what you have to do is execute on that idea. One of the best ways to do that is to be motivated intrinsically, you just gotta want it outside of anything else. One thing that can help you get to that point is positive peer pressure meaning, tell as many people as you can about your idea and that way you will be accountable because people will keep on asking you and you'll be embarrassed if it's going nowhere. Second thing is positive financial peer pressure that you can put on yourself. Form your LLC, incorporate your business, get the trademark to your name, buy the domain to your website, start paying a developer etc... Once you start to see that money leaving your account you'll get real into your business so those are things that will help people get over the hump.

Nelson: With the numerous ways people have to connect and communicate how did you cut through all of that with BAE and gain some market share?

Gerrard: Rewind the clock 10 years and there were a handful of ways to reach people online Facebook Myspace etc.. fast forward to now there are tens of thousands you can meet people through Tinder,Facebook,Bumble, you can meet them through an alumni forum, through a website and other platforms. So the way you have to survive in social consumer today is by starting your business off very niche. You have to create products specific groups of people like you can't try to create something that's for everyone, using that approach you’ll wind up creating something that's nothing for no one. If we just said BAE is a dating app, that isn't going to move the needle at all. The questions would be for who, where, and for what age but if I say BAE is a dating app for black millennial singles now I'm speaking to an audience, then you can get your first 10,000 fans. The key to growing is getting your first 10,000 fans and getting them to love your product and they’ll tell their 10 friends.  That way growth will happen exponentially and naturally but it would seem like the opposite would happen.

Nelson: When do you decide when to grow outside of that niche, if at all?

Gerrard: I think once you've captured that niche. Once you realize you’re at the curve of your early adopters and the early adopters start bringing in people who are mid stage adopters to your idea it's time to expand. The beauty of the process is that if you have a product market that fits your idea your audience should do all the work for you. In a lot of ways content is king so if you can have something people like, with enough word of mouth each with each user telling 5 friends those types of businesses don’t spend any money on marketing. Those are the best businesses to run marketing should only fuel an already existing fire and the fire needs to be your product.

Nelson: Can you speak to how important it is to have a solid foundation in analytics to be successful in the world of innovation?

Gerrard: Before you even launch your app or start your business you have to have some kind of data tracking mechanism. In order to raise money you have to be able to answer questions like, What is you daily active user growth? What are your 1, 7 and 30 day retention rates? What segment of your users have the highest propensity to spend? What's your organic growth? You can’t even get a meeting if you can't answer those questions. Knowing how to pick apart data is really fundamental because you don’t know what to fix without that piece of the process. Apps are experiments done hundreds of times it's a constant exercise in AB testing, pre-post tests and making data and using data analysis to form product decisions.

Nelson: What does innovation mean to you?

Gerrard Innovation means taking a risk to change the status quo. I think successful or not risk taking is always forward motion because even if your innovative idea fails that’s one more thing crossed off the list to change the world.  As long as it's forward motion and action can be considered innovation in a particular field.


Terrence Nelson is a content producer and editor-in-chief of BLK Innovators.  

Twitter:  @TM_Nelson   

Instagram: Terrence_Media

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Brandie Gilliam, Founder/Creative Director, Thoughtfully Magazine