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Entrepreneurs Grind

Annabel Lawee, Founder of Breeze, Wants To Reinvent How You Eat At The Airport

On this week’s episode of The Tartare Project, host Phil Toronto welcomes Annabel Lawee, founder of Breeze. Breeze is a company that serves specialized airport food packages for those that may not be interested in eating actual airport food.

Pulling from her experiences of flying with Celiac disease, Lawee’s mission was to create a company that would provide airport travelers with convenient access to healthy meals instead of standard restaurant food. Noting the stress and inconvenience that can come from meal planning while trying to make your flight, Breeze provides different meal options made straight from scratch with high-quality ingredients. The menu also accommodates those with dietary preferences and restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan, and you can plan your meals up to 24 hours in advance through the Breeze App.

Toronto and Lawee covered a lot of ground during their conversation, primarily discussing how Lawee built Breeze and how she continues to navigate her business through the pandemic. The discussion kicked off with Lawee giving listeners a general view of how Breeze came to be. “Breeze is an on-demand service for airport travelers. You can choose a selection of food, snacks, and beverages, as well as your pick-up time, and we will be ready for you in a centralized pickup point within an airport terminal.” Going on to describe how airport food can be a ‘sucky experience,’ not just in terms of quality, but with various factors such as long lines and other inconveniences, Lawee is determined to change those annoyances by becoming the ‘antithesis’ of airport food experiences.

The conversation then takes several steps back, with Toronto asking Lawee about her childhood experiences growing up in Montreal, attending the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, and moving to New York after graduation. After moving to New York, Lawee joined Echo, a tech startup, and worked there for five years in sales and partnerships, learning many essential skills along the way that would ultimately help with the development of her own company.

Pivoting the conversation towards the early stages of Breeze, Lawee describes what the ideation process was like. “I started ideating about Breeze around 2017. I went on a trip to Cabo, and I remember feeling so bloated and disgusting because I overdosed on almonds since I couldn’t find anything else to eat. It was something that kept happening when I would go on business trips,” Lawee says as she recalls the difficulty of finding quality foods to eat while traveling.

The negative experiences fueled the idea for Breeze. After toying around with the idea for a long time, Lawee finally got the confidence to put her plan into motion after receiving encouragement from her peers and colleagues. Building a startup isn’t the easiest process, and Toronto asked Lawee about the beginning stages of Breeze and how the company has been able to get to where it is today. “I didn’t really know how to start a company, and I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had a great idea that I had to raise money for. I put together a deck that was super catchy and something that potential tech investors could resonate with. My fundraising process happened really quickly—we basically raised $1.5 million on a PowerPoint  slide that said, ‘Airport Food Sucks!’ While that was amazing, the main challenge was this ‘imposter syndrome’—if I had known then what I know now about getting into an airport, I don’t think I would have ever done it.”

Toronto and Lawee had an incredible conversation full of many valuable gems. You can catch the full episode above and follow all of the latest updates from Breeze on Instagram and Twitter.

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Celeb Stylist Calyann Barnett Is Gearing Up To Launch “The Shop Miami”

When we last spoke with Calyann Barnett in January 2020, the celebrity stylist was in the midst of launching her newest venture, The Shop In Pop Up Shop, a place for brands trying to enter the Miami market that didn’t have a traditional brick and mortar presence. Inspired by companies such as Airbnb and Uber, The Shop In Pop Up Shop was designated to be an outlet that clients could use to essentially outsource their products. The company was experiencing a lot of success, but like many other businesses, suffered a setback due to Covid-19.

You know what they say, ‘A setback is a setup for a comeback,’ and after going back to the drawing board, Barnett is ready for round two. Now named The Shop Miami, Barnett will officially be re-launching this June with 20 individually designed spaces, making it a must-shop destination in Miami. Barnett sat down with ONE37pm’s Jael Rucker to discuss the revamp, how a trip to Africa has further inspired her creativity, styling Dwyane Wade, and what she is doing to create more opportunities in fashion for Black designers.

“When I first spoke to you guys—I was like nine months pregnant! We had just opened The Shop in Pop Up Shop, and then Coronavirus happened, and it was unexpected,” she says, reflecting on a time period where there was so much uncertainty. “We closed down and attempted to open again with a temporary spot, but then we decided to go back to the drawing board.”

The summer of 2020 was a trying and sensitive time for everyone; the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent worldwide protests, along with the attempt to bring the cases of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to the forefront, the country saw massive protests in the name of racial equality that it had not seen for some time.

There was also a nationwide blackout in which businesses and consumers halted their buying activities for one day as a way to further take a stance and bring awareness. It reshaped our perspectives, and for Barnett, the desire to use her talents, platforms, and connections as a way to provide even more opportunities for Black people began to fuel her even more.

“It was taking what we learned from George Floyd, the blackout, the blackout amongst Black designers, etc., and realizing that Black people lead the charge.” 

As Barnett began the process of relaunching, those ideals alongside the changing landscape of consumerism have been a part of the day-to-day motions. The pandemic has completely changed the way we shop. Major brands have seen the loss of many physical retail locations (Barnett points to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom as examples.) The process of leasing a building was already difficult. Now, especially with the pandemic, designers sometimes have challenges literally trying to find a ‘space’ for their work, which has also played a part in their ability to build a stable clientele.

Calyann Barnett

“Designers of color are not given the floor space to tell their story. If they are lucky enough to get into a department store, only pieces of their collection are purchased and thrown on a rack or in a section with similar brands. It is crucial for brands to connect with consumers and convert them into loyal customers that relate to their identity. I have learned brand identity is established organically when designers can show their collections the way they intended. Loyal consumers equate to sales which equal capital- and you’ve got to have the capital to build a brand.”

And that is where Barnett is coming to help. Having been in this business for fifteen years, Barnett knows the challenges involved in this business. The entrepreneur has been working hard to execute her vision.

“We started back outreach to brands. The Shop Miami has 20 individually designed spaces,” she states when asked about her upcoming relaunch. “We are looking to open in June, and we are fortunate to be in a place where the weather is always beautiful. This June is a great time to be opening because normally people travel to Europe during the summer, and Europe is completely shut down right now.” 

Calyann Barnett

Aiming for a Juneteenth opening, the objective is still the same: To create a space for designers to have more opportunities without having to worry about the logistics. In short, Barnett and Co. will take care of the gritty work, while designers can focus simply on creating. “Trust me. I know how hard it is with finding your own space and tacking the business side of things! “We are helping designers, from emerging to established, dropping a new collab, translate their brands into sales, without dealing with the logistics, staffing or other operational aspects.” 

And the creativity is especially on ten for Barnett after a recent trip to Africa. Showing off an interesting take on Kente cloth she recently received, Barnett was inspired on an eleven-day trip that saw her mixing business and pleasure. “Going to Africa was an infusion of inspiration, colors, patterns, and designers. When you look at Ghana tailors—their goal is to make a suit that fits.” Barnett then lifts the piece to show the juxtaposition of a Kente cloth with cooler tones as opposed to the brighter, warmer colors we are used to seeing. “You look at it and automatically think it’s couture!”

Calyann Barnett

Barnett’s trip made it even more clear that she wants her shop to be a journey. “I want it to be an experience like you are on a period where you go on a journey. The shop is a journey and a consumer experience.”

Last but not least, we had to ask her again about working with Dwyane Wade. Barnett has been with Wade for fourteen years, and in that time, we’ve seen the style evolution of him going from a 25-year-old a few years into the league to the more suave, mature looks he’s been showing off on Inside The NBA.

“We’ve been having fun with it! We made the decision to use his platform to highlight black designers. He is wearing only shades of grey. We started out with dark greys, and have been gradually going into lighter greys. So far we’ve worked with Virgil for Louis Vuitton, Richfresh, Romeo Hunte, and 3.Paradis to name a few. As a stylist, I am constantly looking for new brands  for my clients, and have built a lot of relationships over the years, as well as helped develop and put brands on the map.”

Between styling clients, building her business and raising 2 boys, Barnett has her hands full. You can continue to keep up with her on Instagram. Go to www.TheShopMiami.com to sign up to receive info about the grand opening.

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Brightland Founder Aishwarya Tyler Talks About Her Entrepreneurial Journey

The week’s episode of The Tartare Project hosted by Phil Toronto welcomes special guest Aishwarya Iyer, founder and CEO of Brightland, a modern pantry essentials company that launched in the summer of 2018. Offering an assortment of authentic oils and vinegars, Brightland sources their products from a California-ran family farm, assuring customers that they will only be consuming products straight from the Earth with no fillers or artificial preservatives.

Prior to founding Brightland, Iyer was the co-founder of Elephant Partners, a communications consultancy for technology companies, and served stints as the head of communications for Whisper and ffVC. Iver also worked as a public affairs manager at Second Market for over three years and started her career in public relations at Lancôme after obtaining a Bachelors in Arts from NYU.

Toronto and Iyer covered her career up to this point, discussing her path to starting Brightland, how her early experiences paved the way for her current success, and more during their 25-minute interview. Toronto began the conversation by asking Iyer to give a rundown on how Brightland came to fruition. “Brightland is a modern pantry essentials brand that really champions traceability, the supply chain, and elevated design. We are best known for our extra virgin olive oils from California, and our vinegars that are really fruit-forward and wonderful.” 

Born in India and growing up in Houston, Toronto and Iyer chatted about Iyer’s childhood, balancing both American and Indian customs and her awakening from being a party student at UT Austin to finding her calling at NYU. “I found a little more of my purpose because I joined the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU,” Iyer says as she recalls her final two years of undergrad. “Gallatin is a school within the university where you create your own major, and it is very entrepreneurial. No two people have the same major, and you have to bring something together that makes sense while also knowing that you are charting your own path. I had a blast with it!”

Only a handful of people can have the privilege of saying they specifically crafted their own major, and Iyers time at NYU has played a critical role in her path since. As the conversation progresses, Toronto and Iyer dive into her first job at Lancôme, her move into the world of tech start-ups at SecondMarket after the 2008 recession, and how that job gave her the ‘entrepreneurship bug.’ Toronto then asks Iyer when she began crafting the idea for Brightland. “At that point, I had been living in New York for about eight or nine years. Just living this New York life where I basically never cooked even though I came from a family where home-cooked food is our love language and the biggest sign of love and appreciation.” After a decade of living the ‘restaurant life,’ Iyer then decided it was time to incorporate more cooking into her lifestyle. Realizing that she and her partner were getting stomach aches after each meal, Iyer did some research into the olive oils she was using and found that nearly 70 percent of the Olive Oils here in the United States are spoiled in some kind of way.

At that particular time, Iyer didn’t necessarily have her sights set on starting a business. The idea of Brightland was one that came gradually over time. “I wasn’t seeking out an entrepreneurial endeavor’ Iyer tells Phil. “That wasn’t a part of my thinking, and you start automatically thinking about what you don’t have. It took me about two-and-a-half years to wrap my head around the concept that I could do this.”

We certainly don’t want to spoil this conversation, so be sure to check out the full episode of The Tartare Project above. You can follow Brightland on Instagram and check out their products on the company’s official website.

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Myles Garrett Is Tackling The Global Water Crisis By Partnering With Waiakea

Myles Garrett put it simply. 

“There are people who do not know what clean water looks like. They do not know what it tastes like. There are people drinking the same water as their livestock.” 

Today is World Water Day, and the NFL Superstar wants to do his part to help address the growing crisis that affects people all over the world. 

One of the most important things to remember about athletes is that they have a life outside of the game. For Garrett, he is focused on helping others and giving back, wherever and however he can.

It is easy to get caught up in our lives. For a large majority of the United States, water is something that we take for granted. 

When I talked with Myles, I was curious about something that I myself struggle with. So many people are advised to “not care what other people think.” Yet, it is so important to be a good representation of your family, the company you work for, or any community you might be a part of. Garrett says it comes down to one thing: 

“My mom kinda said there was only one thing that mattered, kindness. She was the one who showed me the water crisis when I was a kid.”

He said that he knows what it is like to, “be under the microscope,” and to be at the center of the conversation, but he does his best to not pay that much attention.

Instead, Garrett said that he has a lot of faith “in listening to my heart and my gut.” He feels that he is in a position where he can really change the world and affect lives. 

I asked Garrett about seeing the lives he is affecting through his new partnership with Waiakea

“I went on a trip a little over a year ago to Africa and that really opened my eyes.” 

Obviously, during this pandemic, it is difficult to get around, but Garrett is, “absolutely,” going back to Africa as soon as he can. This is something that he speaks about with passion. 

“People have stomach aches and headaches from drinking unsafe water.” 

When you are a superstar in the NFL, there is no shortage of networking opportunities and Garrett wants to put the power he has and the advantages he has to the test.

“I’ve been able to get David Njoku to help out. I am trying to get Baker (Mayfield) and Christian McCaffrey next.” 

But not all of us are friends with Baker Mayfield. I wanted to know what can someone such as myself do? What can the average person do to help this cause?

“Just donate. The amount doesn’t even matter cause anything helps.”

And he’s right. 

A $5 donation can hydrate a community for a week or a farmer for a month. 

No one is asking people to break the bank. But that statistic really proves a lot. Every little bit helps.

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Catharine Dockery of Vice Ventures Is On A Mission To Conquer Investing Stigmas

The week’s episode of The Tartare Project hosted by Phil Toronto features Catharine Dockery, founder of Vice Ventures. Created in 2018, Vice Ventures is a seed-stage venture capital fund with the mission of conquering stigmas and striving towards superior returns by investing in ‘good companies operating in bad industries.’ In their 30-minute conversation, Toronto and Dockery dove into the early stages of her career, some of the obstacles she faced along the way, and the history behind the development of Vice Ventures. 

Dockery kicked off the conversation giving listeners a rundown of what Vice Ventures is, and its day-to-day operations. “Vice Ventures is an early-stage venture fund investing from pre-seed all the way to Series A. We invest in what we call ‘vices,’ which could also be classified as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, sex positivities, etc.—the things that normal venture capitalists wouldn’t normally invest in, and the things I love!”

Toronto then takes several steps back, asking Dockery to describe her childhood. The entrepreneur grew up in West Village with her bartender father, who, through his job, unknowingly introduced her to the business side of those ‘vices’ that have become such an integral part of her company. “With my dad being a bartender, I spent so much time around alcohol to the point where I was the only seven-year-old who knew what Louis XIII Cognac was! That was definitely my childhood—which was pretty funny because I ended up going to NYU, which was maybe six blocks or so from where I grew up.”

One of the few people to actually enjoy their experience at NYU, Dockery shares some of her university tales, her early internship and entrepreneurial endeavors (which has some very interesting stories that you can catch in the interview) and the lessons learned at her first job, Citigroup. While she hated the overall experience of working there, the outcomes were favorable in terms of leading her to where she is now.

Naturally the conversation transitions into Dockery’s time after Citigroup, which also included a stint as the Chief of Staff at Bonobos. Bonobos was later acquired by Walmart, which in-turn led to Dockery leaving the company. Her experiences of interviewing with different funds and learning about the negative stigmas associated with ‘vice clauses’ (selling of alcohol, tobacco, etc.), ultimately led to the decision of starting Vice Ventures. If other companies couldn’t understand the importance of vice investing, then Dockery was going to set out to change the narrative through her own company.

“It was bananas to me that somebody would allow their fate to be determined through institutions. Being that my dad was a bartender, I didn’t think that making money by serving alcohol was bad. I didn’t understand why it was stigmatized—it paid for dinner. At that point I was like, if nobody wants to understand why vice investing is important culturally and economically, then I don’t want to work for them. I’ll just do it myself.”

Be sure to catch the full interview above so you can hear more about Dockery’s journey with Vice Ventures. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter for all the latest updates with Vice. 

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Daniel Soares, CEO of Alimentari Flâneur Is Promoting Food, Culture, and Love

The week’s episode of The Tartare Project hosted by Phil Toronto welcomes Daniel Soares, founder of Alimentari Flâneur. Soares, a fourth-generation Balducci, was inspired to open Alimentari Flâneur after a six-week pop-up project in Little Italy during the summer of 2019 that offered an assortment of rare fruits and vegetables alongside a selection of pastas, cheeses, and oils.

Now, over a year later, Alimentari Flâneur (whose name is a mixture of Italian and French) is thriving as Soares continues to expand upon his pop-up experiment with an even larger array of uncommon products that aren’t available at your average supermarket. A quick glance at the company’s Instagram page will instantly show you Soares’ detailed approach and the hard work put behind his business, as well as how Alimentari Flâneur prides themselves on being a place where their customers can experience food, love, and culture all in one place.

During the course of their 30-minute conversation, Toronto and Soares discussed the brand’s history, he inspiration behind Alimentari Flâneur, and what Soares hopes to build with his company. “Alimentari Flâneur is really about connecting people to the intimacy of everyday. I started this produce market a few months ago, and I wanted to connect people to the intimacy of shopping in a charming curated market that serves seasonal fresh produce, while also giving the simplicity of enjoying the traditional shopping experience. The third and most important thing is the closeness and connection at the store. Whether it’s meeting me, or bringing your produce home and sharing a meal with your family, it’s about understanding that there is a real intentionality and connection happening.”

Admitting that he mispronounced Alimentari Flâneur prior to their interview, Toronto and Soares launched into a spirited conversation about authenticity. While Italian and French cultures may be different, they do have some similarities, including their genuine approach to life and relationships. That very approach is something that Soares carries with him not just when it comes to building his company, but within his everyday life as well. “As far as the brand is concerned, to some people that approach may come off as a bit pretentious,” says Soares as he explains to Toronto the environment he tries to create when people visit his market. “Some people may find it intimidating, but the beauty of that is when you come to the store and discover things like Black Garlic or Lucy Glo Red Fresh Apples, and you think ‘Oh wow this is so weird—I’ve only seen this at really high-end restaurants,’ I’ll be walking the store with you and you’ll see that this is really an indication to discover things together.”

Toronto and Soares continue to chat, discussing Soares childhood and how he viewed education, having entrepreneurial parents, traveling to Europe for the first time and how it changed his life, and the lessons learned from his first business venture—which was an attempt to sell clothes through being able to click on Instagram pictures. Naturally the conversation headed  towards the beginning chapters of Alimentari Flâneur, as Toronto asks Soares the idea behind selling obscure produce. “I’ve had a weird career and life so far—After I failed my app I told my parents that I didn’t want to go back to NYU and that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. They told me to try out real estate since I loved finance, math, and people.” Soares goes on to recap his real estate days, and how his experiences with closing a record sale eventually led to him owning his own market. “Every single choice I’ve made since the day that I closed on that sale, has been to really understand how to build a sustainable retail business.”

Be sure to check out the full interview above to learn more about Soares and Alimentari Flâneur. You can follow the company on Instagram.

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Entrepreneurs Grind

HumanCo CEO Jason Karp Introduces Snow Days, the Healthy Pizza Roll

This week’s episode of The Tartare Project with Phil Toronto features a conversation with Jason Karp, founder, and CEO of HumanCo. The investor turned snack titan just launched a frozen food brand, Snow Days, which aims to replicate the joys of our once beloved reprieves from school. Phil and Jason cover so much ground in this interview, everything from Karp’s upbringing in Connecticut to the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant. 

Jason views his career as composed of two parts: his history as a hedge fund manager/investor and his professional commitment to health and wellness. The genesis for his work in health and wellness is personal; Karp was diagnosed with a series of auto-immune diseases in the early 2000s and the success of his wellness practices in combating those illnesses (where traditional pharmaceuticals had failed) set him on his current path. 

Karp talks to Phil about his childhood affinity for “junk” food, and how the process of educating himself on the drawbacks of such a diet was a bit of a double edged sword. “And now that you know what’s in a lot of stuff, you feel guilty,” he says. Eating junk food, for the educated consumer, feels like an indulgence and something you shouldn’t do. “And I felt like that shouldn’t be,” he says. When he created his chocolate brand Hu, his goal was to cultivate a sort of “permissible indulgence.”

Phil and Jason speak a lot about the process of developing his brand’s ethos, from his restaurant Hu Kitchen to today’s Snow Days. “When we created Hu Kitchen, our restaurant, 8 years ago, we wanted it to literally feel like a playground for people who didn’t want to ask questions like, ‘What’s in this?’ and ‘Can I trust the ingredients?’ We wanted you to go in and just feel like the shackles were off,” he says. They actually started their chocolate brand because they needed baking chocolate for the restaurant! 

The early days of the restaurant were “a disaster.” Through it all, Jason and his team stayed committed to the ethos behind the brand from the get go. “We were always focused on product and consumer trust first,” he says, adding: “what kept us convicted was the reaction of the consumers that did come in.” 

Naturally, Phil is also curious about Jason’s newest exploit, Snow Days. The pizza roll is based on the feeling of pure joy and freedom granted by the elusive snow day. “I wanted to capture that feeling in a product. So Snow Days is a pizza bite; it’s grain-free, gluten-free, 100% organic, uses grass-fed and organic free-range, pasture-raised mozzarella. We source from very specific farms. We infuse seven vegetables into it, which you have no idea are even in there. It’s got much better nutritionals than pizza offerings, but it is pizza and it tastes like pizza bites,” he tells Phil. 

Arriving to their current iteration of the Snow Days product was a lengthy process. “We went through literally dozens of iterations. The version that you’re gonna try is actually version 8.2. And we started on 1.0.” Ultimately, it’s about whether or not kids will enjoy the product. “If it passes the kid test, I think you have a winner,” he says. And the Snow Days pizza roll passed the kids test with flying colors.

Jason has immense knowledge to share about the food industry, restaurants, entrepreneurship and so much more. There’s truly too much to cover. Make sure to listen to the full episode above to squeeze as much information as possible out of this insightful interview; you don’t want to miss it. 

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Entrepreneurs Grind

A Conversation With Imani McGee-Stafford: Sitting Down With A Bad Bitch

When you think about the phrase “More Than Athlete,” there are certain names that come to mind, perhaps none more so than the WNBA’s Imani McGee-Stafford. The WNBA has consistently produced multi-hyphenate movers and shakers who are unafraid to go against the grain and stand up for what they believe in.

One of those leaders is McGee-Stafford—a bold, courageous woman walking with a  purpose, determined to use her wealth of knowledge and experiences to inspire and educate the next generation. A fearless survivor, McGee has been one of the WNBA’s biggest advocates for bringing awareness to systemic racism and injustices, mental illness, and athletes venturing outside of their respective sports to explore other passions. 

Ace The Visionary

Last Spring, McGee-Stafford announced that she was temporarily stepping away from the WNBA to pursue a law degree at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. While the decision was a hard one, the Dallas Wings star considered the move an important next step in her life. One year into her degree, the young law school student, and rising entrepreneur, has spent the better part of this past year focusing on her education and building her fashion career, recently modeling for Honey Birdette and announcing an upcoming lingerie line called Tantry set to release this summer. The ambitious Los Angeles native has also been heavily focusing on her writing career and currently has a four-year proposal set in place to become a lawyer, sports agent, sex store owner, and author, with plans to return to the WNBA after obtaining her degree. 

I first met Imani in the summer of 2018 when she was a member of the Atlanta Dream, and even then, it was clear that she was somebody destined to walk her own path. So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled for the opportunity to connect with her again about this current chapter in her journey.

“Well, it all originally started back in 2018 with the Brett Kavanaugh situation. What I do now—I say I’m a ‘hope dealer’ because I like to give hope that it gets better. I kind of wanted to do more whether he is guilty or not because I feel like if you are in the highest power of a job that you can’t be removed from essentially—even the accusation is too much. We had an educated White woman with evidence, and we still didn’t believe her. So, what does that mean for women of color, sex workers, and uneducated women? I was like, ‘what can I do to really move the needle?'”

Imani McGee-Stafford

“Law school felt like the most realistic thing, and I have a four or five-year plan. I started looking into schools, and I thought I would be playing, but then Corona happened. I was playing in Australia, and we didn’t know if we were even going to have a season. I only applied and didn’t know if I was going to get in. I wasn’t worried about it, but I got in with a fifty-percent scholarship. I had to decide about school before the WNBA made their plans, and I was nervous. I thought my agent was going to cuss me out, but he was like, ‘Go to law school!’ I called my team (Dallas Wings), and they told me they were going to keep my contract, which they didn’t have to do. I didn’t realize how much I would miss basketball, and it’s been a big transition, but it’s been a fun journey. Stressful, but fun!”

Oftentimes, lawyers (or people involved in law) display certain personality traits early on. They may love to argue/debate or be extremely passionate about certain cases they see on the news, but that wasn’t the case for Imani. “No! I am the living example of God laughing when you make plans because I didn’t even want to play pro basketball, but my mother has been telling me I was going to go to law school since I was a kid because I’ve always been very contrarian and bullheaded.”

Southwestern wound up being the perfect fit, and McGee-Stafford has been hard at work during the past year under an accelerated two-year program.

“Originally, I was looking at four-year programs in women’s gender and sexuality studies, or women in gender studies, and I was going to continue to play and go to school during the off-season. Then reality set in, and I realized it wasn’t going to be possible. I went to a law school fair at USC on my list because the schools on my list were there. Southwestern was on a panel, and the two-year program is very unique—I will be able to take the bar in two years instead of three. Southwestern is really big in the public interest, and I want to do public interest—it was just a perfect fit!”

The Covid pandemic has been such a strange dynamic—it has caused so much pain and turmoil, but at the same time, it has allowed people to reconnect to themselves and embark on new paths. Sports came to a complete halt in the spring of 2020, and many people (including athletes) had to find other opportunities or different ways of occupying their time.

“I think when the pandemic first started, there were a lot of people saying things like ‘If you aren’t hustling, you are doing it backward,’ but I think it also gave us a break. It gave us perspective because it is easy to be on the go, and this made everyone pause and ask ourselves about our mental health and how we were going to take care of our families as well as what we were going to do if our primary jobs were not available. I probably would not have pursued law this soon or full-heartedly. It’s crazy how much difference a year makes.”

And while McGee-Stafford is very much her own person, seeing players such as future Hall of Famer Maya Moore leave at the top of her game to fight against injustice might have made her tough decision a little easier. “For sure! Maya is one of the best ever, but she is also very private. She didn’t announce anything—she just took that leap of faith. Maya, if you are listening, please come play basketball again! No, really, we miss her, but watching her journey and seeing her get a happy ending really did the ultimate in terms of laying her job on the line and fighting for something that was bigger than her. She did that before Kapernick! Shoutout to Kap, but Maya started before!”

So now, halfway through her program, the young student finds herself immersed in her studies most of the day—though it can get a little difficult due to the program being solely online.

 “I literally sit at this desk six hours out of the day. I wake up and go over my notes, and I’m trying to figure out how to get my workouts in as well. Even though we are online, our classes are live. There are four black kids in my law school class, and the majority of us are having a hard time because most of the people in our class know a lawyer or have family members that are lawyers—the cultural barrier is very much real. Being at home and embracing yourself in the language has been very hard because if you have never been a part of the law, it is an entirely different language. They aren’t teaching for us, they are teaching for the people who don’t look like us, so I have kind of struggled being at home. Luckily California lowered the score for passing the bar, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.”

McGee-Stafford has been embarking on her aforementioned four-year plan, which is full of goals that she wants to accomplish before turning 30. While law school is the primary focus at the moment, a career in fashion is also in the works. 

“30-year-old me has her stuff together. I’m not sure if all of it will come to fruition, but I am a firm believer in manifestation and speaking it. As far as fashion—I have a lingerie line coming out, and it has been so cool seeing it come to life. 

I feel like everyone deserves to feel sexy. I’m not the sexy kind of girl—I’m more of the quirky, pretty girl. My management literally called me like, ‘Can you please be cute today?!’ I’m always in sweats, but when I was playing in Australia, I really got into lingerie, and I had a long-distance boyfriend, so I got into dressing up when I saw him. I really like how lingerie makes you feel sexy, and the problem with being 6”7 is that nothing fits me correctly! That stuff was either crazy expensive or didn’t fit me properly, so I decided that I was going to do it myself! It’s called Tantry, and I really enjoy it!”

Women aren’t allowed to be sexy all the time, especially women like ‘me.’ We are always forced to pick a side, and I think that’s not fair! My line is all about feeling sexy and comfortable in your own skin. With modeling, I have been trying to break in for a little while now. I started a couple of years ago, and it’s been cool to see my progression. I wasn’t the photogenic kid, and my parents always got mad at me on picture day! I enjoy the creative process, and I definitely want to be at New York Fashion Week!”

As busy as she is, basketball is never too far away for the law student/fashionista, and she couldn’t be more proud of her friends and colleagues during last year’s difficult campaign in the bubble. 

“I’m so proud of my sisters! I was very much one of the people that voted against having a season this year because I thought it was going to be hard to maintain the momentum we built—especially in a bubble. The way that we put it all together—there was no reason to miss a WNBA game. There was a game on national television every day, and there was a moment of silence before every tip-off. To do all of that in two months under conditions that were definitely different was amazing!

I’m always involved in our players’ association trying to make things happen. This is what I am and what’s in my blood. I’m forever about this league and pushing for it. A great part of being in the WNBA is that we aren’t afraid to have these conversations, even with people that aren’t necessarily the most vocal. My college teammate Ariel Atkins, who is a champion with the Mystics, has never been comfortable speaking in crowds, and watching her orchestrate conversations and take the mic after games, was amazing seeing the growth she had.”

As we approached the end of our conversation, I had one final question for Imani: What does she want the world to know about her the most?

“I think my whole purpose in life is to encourage people to be their whole selves. I’m a hot mess majority of the time—and that’s okay! I’m 26, still learning, and I’m real! I want people to come on this journey with me, and hopefully watch me fall and get up. I want to give people a little more joy in their lives!”

The journey has just begun, and you can continue to follow Imani’s endeavors on both Instagram and Twitter!

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Entrepreneurs Grind

Mark Cuban Talks With ONE37pm About The National Anthem, New Ventures, And More

During the week of February 9th, Mark Cuban made headlines after a story was released by The Athletic revealing that the Dallas Mavericks were not playing the national anthem before home games and didn’t plan to move forward.

“It was my decision, and I made it in November,” Cuban told Marc Stein of the NYT.

Cuban’s actions caused the NBA to release a statement on the matter, which read:

“With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy,” said NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass.

Not one to take things sitting down, Cuban issued a response::

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country. I have always stood for the anthem with the hand over my heart — no matter where I hear it played. But we also hear the voices of those who do not feel the anthem represents them. We feel they also need to be respected and heard because they have not been heard. The hope is that those who feel passionate about the anthem being played will be just as passionate in listening to those who do not feel it represents them.”

Cuban spoke with ONE37pm to discuss his new partnership, his thoughts on TikTok, and if his stance on playing the Anthem had changed  following the blowback. 

ONE37pm: A week later, how do you feel about your stance on the anthem?

Mark Cuban: Nothing has changed. There are a couple of things, and I am a national anthem guy. That is just the way I was raised, and it is a habit more than anything else. And over time, I have learned that not everyone looks at the national anthem the way I do. When that starts happening, you start doing your homework, and you read about Francis Scott Key, the second, third, and fourth verses; and, understandably, there is a reference to free men, slaves, and you can see how it makes people uncomfortable. With that being said, people have habits, and for me, for 20 years with the Mavs, I would be out there [on the floor] or even in my office bunker; I would stand and put my hand over my heart. During the anthem the stands were not full, people walked around on the concourse, and I did see their response to the anthem; some stopped, but most didn’t. And it is not important to them that they are on time for it. It is not important to stop on the concourse. For some, they will not stop and put a beer down, while some won’t even take their hats off. That always bothered me; if this was so important to us, and it is to me. My dad was military and fought in two wars, and was wounded. My uncle was in the Air Force and fought in two wars. If it was so important, then why do we disrespect it like that? It always bothered me, and then over the last couple of years, The anthem has gotten weaponized, and certain people felt their form of patriotism was the only form of patriotism. If you didn’t do it their way, you are not patriotic, and you didn’t love this country, and to me, that was wrong. There is no one way to love this country other than the definition of liberty.

You get to love this country or not. I truly believe 99.99 percent love this country; there are no ifs and about it. Some don’t, but 99.99 percent do. There are people now that feel like their way of honoring our amazing country is the only way. They try to weaponize it, and we saw that with our players. So, going into the season, they had come out of the bubble where there were many messages and emotions. I was like, one: people don’t fully respect it initially, which really bothered me; two: everybody watched what people did with the anthem in those first couple of games; three: we weren’t going to have fans, so let’s see what happens if we didn’t play it. That is actually what I did, and after the lineup, I went over to our PR guy Scooter and said, “Has anybody said anything? Not a word. “Did you tell the other team  and their media what was going on?” Told everybody, not a word, and it continued until the 13th game. A reporter said something, and then that’s when everybody found out. It was never going to be a situation where we weren’t going to play the anthem. It wasn’t a situation where I was against playing it. It was more of a situation where let’s see what happens.

The Mavericks host an event called Seats for Soldiers every year except for Covid. We celebrate more than 100 wounded service members from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and veterans from the Adaptive Training Foundation, and reserve troops from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. 

ONE37pm: It was recently announced that you partnered with a company by the name of Fireside. Can you share with our audience what the company entails?

Cuban: It’s called FireSide Chat, and it is not going to be out for a couple of months, but effectively it’s podcasting 2.0, and what it says is, if you go to a conference, and you sit down, there is a moderator people asking questions or a keynote speaker then they open it up for questions. We will enable that using audio, and you can invite whoever you want to your keynote or podcast. You will be able to take questions from them, interact with them, and they will have the features applaud and make noise to get feedback, but they will also be able to tip you, and you will also be able to save it. Clubhouse is meant to be in the moment, and that’s great, but with FireSide Chat, you will be able to have that entire conversation and then save it. So, people can download it and listen to the whole thing. That is what I think is missing as much as anything. So, you want that interaction, and you want it to live forever. Instead of it being in one spot like Clubhouse is. 

ONE37pm: What are your thoughts on TikTok?

Cuban: I think the cool part about being a tech geek I look at the tech side, and I think it has many other content applications. In traditional social media, it is driven by advertisement first. It used to be about who you follow and follow somebody. It would be in chronological order. Then artificial intelligence started jumping in like Facebook. They will optimize for what you like to hear but maximize their ad revenue, wherewith TikTok doesn’t appear in any way that it is an ad maximization strategy. It looks like it showcases more of those videos, even if it is not someone you follow. So, I watch a lot of basketball highlights, and so does my son. He also likes to watch business-related stuff, which is crazy for an 11-year-old. So, his feed is different from mine, which is different from my daughter, who knows every dance, but they get a separate feed. I have shared with the NBA that kids might not sit and watch an entire game. So, we might have to deliver our games more like a Tik Tok presentation. Where instead of the entire game, if it is someone that likes dunks? Then every dunk is coming from the Mavs versus the Blazers. If somebody likes Luka, every possession with Luka is coming nonstop, and so on. 

The Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star finished the interview by sharing that he was excited for things to come in the tech space. 

Cuban has never been one to shy away from sharing his thoughts, regardless of the topic, and it’s clear that he has a strong opinion on the National Anthem. Whether you agree with him or not is another issue, but it’s safe to say that Cuban is going to speak his mind, and we’re here for it.

Categories
Entrepreneurs Grind

John Sherwin Wants To Change How You Hydrate

John Sherwin, Co-founder of Hydrant Inc, was this week’s guest on ONE37pm’s Open Dialogue with Phil Toronto. The two discussed what the company is about, what he did before creating Hydrant, and his attempts at building other companies along the way.

“Our original product was a powder drink mix, and it was for hydrating you faster than water alone as we have grown on other wellness verticals. We think of Hydrant as an accessible wellness platform; we have hydration at the core of all our products with functional benefits added on top of it,” said Sherwin.

“So, right now, we have an energy product, which is Hydrant plus energy, we have an immunity product, which is Hydrant plus immunity, and there will be some more products coming out through 2021 that we are happy to share soon.”

Sherwin was not always in the wellness industry. Before he and his business partner, Jai Jung Kim, started Hydrant, he worked at a tech startup in the Bay Area.

“Before Hydrant, I was working in the Bay Area at a tech company, and it was a YCBack startup. I was an early employee wearing many different hats with many responsibilities, but it was a fire hose of learning. That is why I went there to learn about tech startups in the land where tech startups came from, some six or seven years ago at this point. So, things have changed, but I was somewhat of a product manager and a business development manager. It was an amazing experience, but as soon as the learning period started to slow down. I started to pursue my passion as I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and a lot of role models pursued that path. My family has been very supportive of me to go out and pursue things,” Sherwin said.

Hydrant was not the only company that Sherwin attempted to start.

“Back in college, I started this priority card to help you get into nightclubs faster. It turns out college towns are usually run by one entertainment company, which operates in a mafia-style. So, I was run out of town before I even got off the ground, and it was a learning experience and something I would do again.

What led him to Hydrant?

“It started at the university when I was trying to solve the problem of staying hydrated while having a lot of fun in the evening, playing a sport, and studying hard. While studying biology, I am very into science and almost went the medical route, but In the UK, you can do medicine at the same time; there is no pre-med equivalent. So, some of my friends were doctors, and I would watch some of the things that they were doing to manage their performance,” shared Sherwin.

“Doctors are very impressive, and they were drinking this disgusting clinical powder after nights out. I tried it because I was curious, and a huge pharmaceutical company made it, and it made me gag. It wasn’t very good from an experience standpoint. I did feel the difference, which has been the benchmark for all the products we make. Also, all the products that I try make it clear that all the electrolytes are affected. So, I started buying sports drinks, coconut water, and Pedialyte. It started by me trying to solve a problem for myself.”

You can listen to the latest Open Dialogue episode above, and you can also follow John Sherwin on Instagram and Twitter.