Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 38
James Jones, Ownors July 2021
[00:00:00] James Jones: [00:00:00] Part of the reason why I became a lawyer was to help people.
[00:00:07] We would go to the Tampa courts and we would watch the proceedings.
[00:00:11] So I have this legal issue and this is my first time in court. Can I ask you a question? Can you look on my paperwork for me?
[00:00:18] The look on his face. Said the system does not work for us.
[00:00:23] Court buddy was an accidental business.
[00:00:25] I create all this great art, but someone else owns it.
[00:00:28] You’re going at Mach five speed. When you have venture dollars.
[00:00:32] When you hear that, the first thing you think this is impossible for me, there’s no way I can raise it.
[00:00:38] The odds are stacked against me hearing those types of things.
[00:00:41] It was like, did you guys even go through the due diligence? I mean, why are we even here?
[00:00:45] 90 plus percent of the people that are writing the checks don’t look like me.
[00:00:50] So it was a challenge, but it was a challenge that we had. We didn’t make any excuses.
[00:00:56] I’m in the trenches too. The question is what are you going to do about it?
[00:00:58] So that’s the [00:01:00] mentality that I had going into these meetings.
[00:01:03] Dan: [00:01:03] Hey, what’s up Unfound Nation, Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out. Another episode of founders. That was James Jones, co-founder and CEO of Ownors, an AI driven FinTech platform that helps artists retrieve payouts from streaming services owners.
[00:01:20] Isn’t James’ first startup inspired by his upbringing. James became an niche. But he saw the huge gaps in the system. A fundamental way that legal services are sold and distributed is a straight up disconnect with the vast majority of people who need it. So he and his wife formed court buddy after successfully fundraising and scaling that business change was eager to scratch the startup pitch.
[00:01:40] Again, leveraging his legal experience and personal passion for music. He set out to solve a different inefficiency, saw creators being paid, equitably and timely for them. And so Ownors was born.
[00:01:52] James has a great story. You’ll want to listen.
[00:01:55] Our episode is sponsored by BLCKVC, a focused community built for and [00:02:00] by black investors.
[00:02:01] Check out a link in the show notes for more about their exceptional programs and events. And if you’ve ever thought about getting into venture, you definitely want to connect up at blackvc.com. That’s B L C K vc.com.
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[00:02:32] Hello. Hello and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet, we bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African [00:03:00] descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya.
[00:03:02] Let’s get on it.
[00:03:03] Today, we have James Jones, co-founder and CEO of Ownors, an AI driven FinTech platform that helps artists retrieve payouts from streaming services and provides micro advances to cover payout gaps. Welcome to the show, James, we’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:19] James Jones: [00:03:19] Thank you so much, Dan.
[00:03:20] I’m excited about being here today and talking to you and, and also.
[00:03:25] Dan: [00:03:25] Terrific. So let’s just start quickly with what is Ownors exactly.
[00:03:29] James Jones: [00:03:29] So, yeah, Ownors as a platform that helps independent artists that are doing anywhere between 10,000 monthly streams, all the way up to about 250,000 monthly streams with understanding their analytics, analytics, being how they’re streaming across different platforms. I mean, these are platforms such as Spotify and YouTube. We also. Help them retrieve their payouts from these streaming services, as well as providing them with micro advances. When the micro Vance’s are [00:04:00] designed to help them boost their streaming numbers or to cover the gaps between when they initially started streaming their songs all the way up until when they start to receive payments for or royalties from those songs.
[00:04:13] So we’re a platform that’s designed to help artists think about themselves as businesses, as opposed to. Artists that are putting out whether it’s music or video or portfolios, if they’re into modeling or acting a highlight reels. So instead of just being the talent, they start thinking about themselves as, as a business and we provide the tools for them to do.
[00:04:36] Dan: [00:04:36] That’s awesome. And I think it’s such a intelligent approach. Everybody talks about how easy it is to be a creator or an influencer, but there’s this nagging thing of how do we make money and when do we get paid? And those things are so critical to especially emerging people who are artistic. So I think it’s really cool.
[00:04:54] And we’re going to delve more into the business in a little while, but first we want to hear a little bit more about James Jones, [00:05:00] Jr. Where are you from? Where’d you go?
[00:05:02] James Jones: [00:05:02] Yeah. So, uh, I’m currently in LA and Ownors is, is headquartered here in LA, but I’m actually from the east coast while. I was born, born in Richmond, Virginia grew up between Virginia and North Carolina. My father was, I call him a traveling musician. So we spent a lot of time up and down the east coast. He was essentially stopping at different churches. Um, he had a company of his own. He’s not just a computer engineer, but he’s also a musician. And he went to different churches to teach music to anyone that was interested in learning how to, how to play keyboards or instruments. So we spent a lot of time on the road and this was between Washington DC, all the way down to two.
[00:05:45] And because we were on the road so much and because my father’s background, um, he has six college degrees and just a really, really smart guy engineer. He has a degree in philosophy and theology and all of these different, I call them the heart, the tough [00:06:00] fields, right?
[00:06:00] Those are the fields that, you know, requires a certain level of intelligence. To essentially do well in and thrive in. And so we spent a lot of time. Uh, I spent a lot of time, I should say, watching him struggle from a business standpoint, struggle to, to sell his music. I had an opportunity to listen to his music. All of it was created by him. I watched him build keyboards. I’ve watched him build speakers, but that’s the engineering side of him. So I had a really upfront opportunity to watch my father essentially navigate the challenge. Uh, being essentially a one man band, right. In terms of teaching music, selling music and running a business too.
[00:06:37] So we spent a lot of time on the road. I also lived in, in Florida, Tampa, Florida for a number of years. And I bring that up because that was another moment in my life where. I had an opportunity to get up close and personal with the justice system during the summertime, my mom and dad, and my brother and sister was a, it was a family of five.
[00:06:57] We would go to court, go [00:07:00] to the Tampa courts and we would watch the proceedings is the best way to describe it. And at the time, I didn’t know the difference between criminal versus civil court, but in hindsight, it was criminal court because there was a defendant that was brought into the courtroom and sometimes they had handcuffs on, sometimes they did.
[00:07:18] There was a judge, a lot of cases, the defendants did not have attorneys and there was a prosecutor. So either they had a public defender or they didn’t have an attorney at all. Well, there was always a prosecutor there. And so there’s this one memory that really stands out to me and it was. Black man, who was probably in his early thirties or so.
[00:07:39] And I was around just to give you a time reference. I was, I was our age reference. I was about seven or eight. And so they bring him in, into the court. He has handcuffs on he kind of glances back at where we are. So if you think about like a courtroom, there is where the judge sits. There’s a plaintiff and defendant desk.
[00:07:55] There’s a jury box, you’re a box. And then there are benches behind. [00:08:00] And the benches are where we set as just observers of what was happening. And so he kind of glanced at us and he takes his seat. The judge says all rise and you know, everyone stands up and apparently he had been accused of assaulting and battering.
[00:08:15] He was at this bar and he had. Swung and hit another patron at the bar.
[00:08:25] And so what happened was he was charged with assault, battery, and some other different things. And the prosecutor just essentially went and try to get him convicted on every charge. And the judge essentially agreed with him. And I don’t think the defendant said any word or had an opportunity. I think he may have had an opportunity to say a word, but he may have just declined to say anything.
[00:08:48] And again, this is me at seven or eight years old. So this is me trying to process everything that’s happening. And so all of a sudden the judge makes his ruling. The bail of has taken him back to, I guess, his holding sale or something. And he [00:09:00] looks at us and the look on his face said the system does not work for us.
[00:09:07] He didn’t say that, but that’s what it’s facing. And again, I’m seven or eight years old. And from that point on, I had like almost. Factuation with trying to help out people. People that I thought were either unjustly served or didn’t have an opportunity to, to do something with their lives. Right. And again, this wasn’t something that he said it was just something that I felt strongly about because of what I, what I would do.
[00:09:35] Dan: [00:09:35] How did your parents decide to bring you to court? I mean, did you have relatives that were going through something or anybody that you knew or you were just going to learn and observe.
[00:09:46] James Jones: [00:09:46] My parents were always interested in making sure that their children had well-rounded exposure. Another part of my father’s background is that he was a correctional officer at one of the toughest prisons in the [00:10:00] world, all around the country.
[00:10:01] At the time it was called the Lord and facilities. He actually wrote his thesis for his doctorial degree on his experiences, trying to, to get these really tough inmates, trying to get them to find a way to change their life. Right. And so. Music. He use his Christianity. He’s a strong believer in Christ and my uncles and aunts and my grandmas on my dad’s side, they’re all the same way.
[00:10:24] And so he wanted to figure out ways to, to transform or convert the inmates into a better life and following a better path. And that was the path of Christ. And so I think a part of it was, he was always. Into, even beyond that period in his life, when he did that, I think he was always into the justice system.
[00:10:45] And so he took us probably because he wanted us to number one, stay out of trouble, but he also wanted us to have a lot of exposure to different types. Career paths and different types of people and the things that they’re going through. I don’t [00:11:00] think it was anything that was happening within our family or any relatives that would warrant us going to court.
[00:11:06] I just think it was my father naturally wanted us to, to learn from him or to, to learn from the system and learn what to do and what not to do. And one more thing I’ll add to that experience. I was fascinated by lawyers that. I became very, very fascinated with lawyers. And I mentioned that because the lawyer in that particular scenario seem to have a commanding knowledge of all sorts of statues and rules and regulations and case law.
[00:11:35] And that was fascinating to me because it wasn’t like the lawyer had a book. It wasn’t like the lawyer hat, you know, these statues and was reading from a paper. It was all. No cell phone, no cell phone. This was the eighties. So yeah, no, no, no cell phones or anything like that. Yeah. So it was just a fascinating experience.
[00:11:55] Dan: [00:11:55] What a gift from your parents that you said was a natural inclination for your father? I don’t think [00:12:00] most parents think that way. Let me put my family into these situations where they can really appreciate some of the nuances you’re talking about. Yup. You ended up becoming a lawyer. So this probably had some impact on that.
[00:12:12] Tell us about that journey. How did you become a lawyer?
[00:12:15] James Jones: [00:12:15] Part of the reason why I became a lawyer was to help people. This experience certainly catapulted me to the dream of becoming a lawyer. I’ve always been an analytical person. I’ve always been pretty observant. Anyone that you speak with that. Was around me as, as a child or even as a young adult will tell you that I was a man, uh, or I was a, a boy at the time, a boy of, of few words.
[00:12:40] I only spoke when it was time to say something meaningful. And I just spent a lot of time observing, analyzing my friends, used to always tell me, like, you’re like steel waters that run deep. You’re not really saying. Your eyes may say certain things, but when you do talk, it’s so deep. So you’re like still waters run deep.
[00:12:58] Right? So [00:13:00] fast forward to my high school years, my parents had just gotten a divorce. And prior to that, I was super a student. Taking all of these great algebra and trigonometry, all these different courses and everything and excelling in them.
[00:13:14] And I was offered an opportunity. Now this is North Carolina. So I’ll just say that. But I was offered an opportunity because I had done so well in math to go to the North Carolina school of science and math. And the reason why I did not do that is because I wanted to play sports. And my mom had just gone through a divorce. She was worried about me as the oldest son, not being around and you know, something happening because then at the North Carolina school of science and math, you had to stay on campus too.
[00:13:45] It was like a campus. So it was kind of like you’re in college before you start college. Right. So I ended up not going there, but because of a teenager, trying to learn going through puberty and everything else that teenagers go through. On top of that, dealing with my mom and [00:14:00] divorced and seeing those proceedings play out because I’m the oldest and, you know, having to answer certain questions and that uncomfortable period where you have to listen to what your father is saying, what your mom is saying.
[00:14:10] And so, anyway, the point is my grade slip, not a lot, but I started focusing on other things and sports came into play. And so I actually played a lot of different sports. It was, it allowed me to get my mind off of what was happening. And, you know, I played football, basketball, ran track, ran cross country, played baseball and excelled at it.
[00:14:30] I remember at being in class. And especially like the math classes or science classes. And again, like I said, when I do speak, you know, everyone’s like, oh, James is going to say something, you know? So at the time it was, I would say something and they would say, well, yeah, I thought about being a doctor or a lawyer.
[00:14:48] And it’s very rare. Especially with, with, unfortunately with black kids that, you know, you have teachers that’ll push you into those types of careers. Right? I think I read, [00:15:00] I read the autobiography of Malcolm X and he talked about how a teacher said that he should be a carpenter because he was good with his hands.
[00:15:06] Not that he should be an intellectual, not that he should be a thinker or a writer, but he should be carpenter. So it was very rare for teachers to push black. And push me into that direction. And I was opposed to it. I was like, Nope, you’re not going to tell me which way, how I’m going to live my life and I’m going to do whatever I want to do.
[00:15:26] So that was the rebellious James coming out at that period of time. But ultimately they proved, right. I mean, I ended up becoming a lawyer. I went to college at Western Salem state university, which is a HBCU, did a lot of things in college. I was the editor of my campus newspaper. I played football for a year, my freshman year.
[00:15:45] And, you know, I graduated with a 4.0, I was student of the year. I was able to essentially recover from that hiccup that I experienced in high school.
[00:15:54] Dan: [00:15:54] Maybe it wasn’t a hiccup. Maybe it’s the thing that gives you the resilience. Sometimes it’s those [00:16:00] seasons of trial and challenge, right. That make us eat stronger and we grow to be better prepared.
[00:16:06] So maybe, maybe that was the, it’s all part of the journey.
[00:16:09] James Jones: [00:16:09] It’s all part of the journey. Exactly, exactly. It’s all part of the journey. I remember when I was in college, I spent a lot of time speaking to my professors. I also, in addition to doing that, I had this job in a computer lab and this job actually came about because of my, just a casual conversation I had with the professor.
[00:16:28] He essentially said, look, if you’re bored with school, I have a job here at the computer lab on campus. Why don’t you try your hand? And so at first I was kind of reluctant to it, to do it. Ultimately, I decided to do it, and it was a great experience because I naturally gravitated towards computers. And this was a job that required me to fix computers.
[00:16:47] And, you know, there were a bunch of students coming into the computer labs to do different things on the computers. And so if they had any issues, I would fix them. And whether it’s opening up an application or whatever issue they had, I [00:17:00] was able to. And this was around the time where you had peer to peer file sharing, like Napster and Limewire and a few others that I’m missing.
[00:17:09] I think when mix was another one and all of a sudden, as I’m in the computer lab, I’m hearing students say stuff like, man, I can’t get this new album that’s coming out. And most of the students live on campus. And so it was a pain for them to leave campus because most had to do public transportation to leave campus and it took an hour to get to them.
[00:17:30] Right. Which was it driving? It was probably about 30, 20, 30 minutes from, from the campus, but it was a pain, nevertheless. Right. And so I overheard students say, well, I just went to the mall and the mall is called Hanes mall. And I tried to get, I get the CD and I’m probably dating myself now, but they were trying to get the CD and they couldn’t get, and so at first I was like, oh, that’s just one person.
[00:17:57] And then I kept hearing it over and over and over. [00:18:00] And so I had a friend that worked at circuit city. I would go to circuit city and I would get these cases of like, they’re like blink CDs. And so I just casually had overheard a student say complaining again about an album not being ready or being sold out.
[00:18:16] And I said, Hey, why don’t I just, can I get that album? And he’s just like sure. I ended up switching from second shift, third shift. So this is midnight to 8:00 AM in the computer lab where it’s mostly empty and because it’s mostly empty. And because we’re doing updates on the computer, I was able to start taking these CDs and every student that had a certain type of song or album that they wanted, I was able to get it.
[00:18:41] And so you’re talking about 40 computers, times two or three CDs per eight hour shift, and I’m charging them $5. I’m like, look, you know, I’ll do this for $5 for you. I’ll have it to you in the morning. That’s the entrepreneurial side I started. There was a point to this story. The entrepreneurial side of me started developing at that point.
[00:18:58] I remember at one point [00:19:00] I did the math and I said, I am getting paid $10 an hour for eight hours. So that’s $80 for working in a computer lab. I am taking 40 computers and I am burning two to three CDs per computer, and I’m making $5. I am five X and 10. X-ing the amount of money that I’m making work in this job.
[00:19:24] And that forever changed me. And so one of the things that I learned doing the CDs was that the $5 is $5. Right? And then you can pay taxes after that. It’s not, you pay the taxes first and then someone gives you $3. You know, you have $5 in your pocket and then you can pay the taxes. So the point is those are things that kind of shaped my thinking about entrepreneurship, the importance of understanding taxes and understanding employee versus versus investor versus having a business, right?
[00:19:54] Those are some of the early, early learnings that I was fortunate to learn from.
[00:19:58] Dan: [00:19:58] I love it. You can see the [00:20:00] kernels of the entrepreneurial. Is there any beginning of there? We’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with James Jones from Ownors.
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[00:21:08] [00:21:00] Dan: [00:21:08] So we’re back with James. So James, I’m hearing a lot about some of the key attributes of a great entrepreneur intellectual curiosity. That seems to be unsatisfied, but this rational, common sense approach of how making books and ledgers match up. And where’s the opportunity for upside. So all the things that prepare you to be an entrepreneur.
[00:21:30] For sure. Or at least the natural, the natural attributes that you want to see. We know that Ownors is not your first entrepreneurial journey and your first company was Court Buddy. And we could do a whole episode on Court Buddy, but tell us a little bit about that journey, how that got started and how you transitioned to the current place.
[00:21:50] James Jones: [00:21:50] So I went to law school at the university of Florida. And when I was there, I did pro bono work. Pro bono means, you know, [00:22:00] just free, free legal services for the local community in gainesville. And my first job out of law school was with a firm in west Palm beach. And then from there, I went to
[00:22:14] affirm in Miami before I started my own firm. Each step along the way I met people. That were representing themselves. They represented themselves. Not because they didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer. They represented themselves because either a, they thought the fees were just way too high or B, they respected the fees, but they just weren’t going to pay it anyway.
[00:22:38] And part of the reason they reason as to why they weren’t going to pay it was because even if they did not win the case, they still had to pay those fees. So it’s like, where’s the win-win for me, right? Should it be a situation where if you don’t win, then you don’t get paid or another type of scenario, but it’s to them, it just didn’t [00:23:00] seem fair.
[00:23:00] The only exception was plaintiff’s work. So this is, these are like the personal injury cases where the recovery or the fees are contingent upon. The lawyer successfully obtaining some type of judgment or a settlement on behalf of the client. Right? So those are pretty clear cut for clients, but for other types of cases that were non contingency cases, it was more of a, of a steeper hill to climb in terms of gains.
[00:23:28] Clients to understand why they should be paying for something that may or may not work out for them. And this is again, law school thinking as well as being a lawyer I thinking was, if I bring on new clients, they have to sign a retainer. They have to pay me X amount of dollars before I do any of the work.
[00:23:45] And so. In between west Palm beach and Miami, I spent a lot of time in court. I represented fortune Vonda companies and for different types of cases, whether it’s a slip and fall person, injury, defense, or crew member, [00:24:00] case of, of semen that were injured on the ship, I represented for the audience to know I represented Royal Caribbean and Norwegian and carnival cruise lines. And, and so there are like all these different cases that were coming in and it required me to be in court a lot.
[00:24:13] The way that the court system works is. Each judge across the country has a motion calendar. And these motion calendars have about 20 or 30 cases where the judge has to make a ruling. These are five minute motions.
[00:24:27] So the judge has to essentially say yes, you know, I, I grant what you’re seeking or I deny it. And here are the reasons. Of course, the judge can’t hear every single case at the same time. And so there’s a docket, it’s called a docket where there’s like a list of different cases. And so the bail of calls your case up and before that happens, there’s an area where everyone’s just kind of waiting.
[00:24:51] And so as a lawyer, I’m looking over my notes, I’m getting prepared for the hearing. I’ve been in front of this judge before some thinking about how to make the arguments to the [00:25:00] judge out approach this judge. And I started getting people asking me, Hey sir, are you a lawyer? Sure. Yeah, I’m a lawyer. So I have this legal issue and this is my first time in court.
[00:25:11] And can I ask you. Can you look on my paperwork for me? And so, you know, I’m a very sociable person, I would say. Yeah, of course, I’ll take a look at your paperwork and every case, or almost every case. It was a nightmare scenario for the client. They were about to get their children taken away from them.
[00:25:28] They were about to get a financial judgment against them. They were about to lose their property, their homes. And more often than not, it was because of just the technicality. It wasn’t the merits of the case. It was just a technicality. Like they forgot to file something that he failed to do something.
[00:25:43] And so I would tell them like, you’re about to go in front of this judge and you’re about to lose property. You’re about to lose your children. You’re about to lose your home. Why didn’t you just hire a lawyer? I mean, this is just a technical thing that you’re about to you about to lose. And again, that response was, look, [00:26:00] I can’t pay $350 an hour for a lawyer.
[00:26:02] I can’t pay $5,000 for a retainer. Then the next question would be. But sir, can I give you $200 to go in front of this judge right now and represent me just for this one motion? Sorry, I can’t do that. I have my own case, number one, but number two, you have to come to my office and you have to sign a retainer and you have to pay me X amount of dollars per hour.
[00:26:22] So essentially I was telling them the same thing that they would probably hear it from other lawyers, but then the entrepreneurial side of me kicked in and I said, wow, like I’m hearing a lot of this. I’m hearing a lot of people. Come up to me and say that, look, I’ll just pay you 300 bucks. I’ll pay you 400 bucks just to go in front of the judge right now.
[00:26:40] This is where my wife comes into the picture. We create a court buddy as a husband and wife team. So she was working at an ad agency. This was in south Florida. So we were, she was working at an ad, an ad agency, and she spends a lot of time in the it department. And so. I kept asking her, like, is there something that I can do about this?
[00:26:57] Because I have hundreds of people [00:27:00] coming up to me every time I go to court and they’re saying, look, I need this done. I need that done. And I can pay you a hundred bucks. I can pay you 200 bucks at the same time. My colleagues, either lawyers that I went to law school with, or people that I’ve met along the journey were always complaining about not having.
[00:27:18] And I’m like, look, I just left like five people at the courthouse that were like willing to pay me $500 to go in front of the judge. You can’t find one. And so my wife was thinking at the time she comes from an advertising and marketing background. Well,
[00:27:31] why don’t we just, I have a bunch of developers that I speak to all the time in the it department at my agency. Why don’t we try to brainstorm ways to figure out this problem? The next thing you know, we said, why don’t we create a model? And the marketplace would just be local. We’ll just start off in Miami Dade county and we’ll try to help as many people as we can get connected with court appearance attorneys that I know are looking for work because they tell me all the time that they’re looking for work, that they don’t have enough [00:28:00] clients that will.
[00:28:01] And that essentially was how court buddy was born. We tinkered with a few things, literally in our house. You know, we have a whole pictures of like the table that we laid out, all these different sketches and drawings on and, and we just made it work. We spoke to a lot of lawyers. I was able to go to lunch with a lot of lawyers.
[00:28:18] I signed them up, my wife, Christina. She was able to go to an ad agency and asked, Hey, you know, would you use. Can you use this. And even if that person couldn’t use it directly, they knew someone that could. Right. And so next thing, you know, it’s, it’s just like those days where I was burning CDs, it was like, you know, you have people telling each other, telling other people that’s how corporate had got.
[00:28:42] Dan: [00:28:42] And it’s a great story. Like I said, we could do a whole separate episode on, on Court Buddy is an amazing journey. You end up building this business and you and Christina raise money and hit Silicon valley. And I think your entrepreneur of the year at one point, but at some point you decide to figure out what’s [00:29:00] next or to pursue what’s next. So tell us maybe a little bit about how that transitioned into Ownors.
[00:29:06] James Jones: [00:29:06] You know, Steve jobs has this great quote about connecting the dots between your past and using that to figure out your future. You know, one of the things that I tell people is that court buddy was an accidental business. It was something that we were just trying to figure out ways to solve.
[00:29:22] Almost like a way of saying quit nagging me personally. Right. Stop asking me. Here’s a place where you can go so that you can. Pay $200 for a court appearance attorney, right? There’s only so much that I can do I’m in court for a reason. And my reason is to help out this client that has retained me to achieve a certain goal.
[00:29:43] That was the accidental business that kind of came out of that. Right. So trying to solve a problem. And in this case, it was a painkiller for, for a lot of people and we ended up going national with it. We got to a point where this wasn’t the last stop on our journey, right? So also as a lawyer, I [00:30:00] represented athletes, some hall of Famers.
[00:30:02] Now they’re their hall of fame athletes. I’ve represented record labels. That record represented artist. And restaurants and lounges. And so that was the more appealing part of the business for me, because I was able to see all sorts of interesting behavior and interesting characters during that time.
[00:30:22] There’s nothing like getting confidential communications from clients. And them disclosing things where you’re just like, whoa, I would never do that. You’re not being judgemental in my lifetime. I can’t, I wouldn’t do that. But I’m here to represent you and I’m not passing judges. Let’s just get through this issue.
[00:30:39] Right. So anyway, the point is that experience. Taught me a lot about the business as it pertains to craters, there are a lot of creators that were, and we’re talking about in some cases, really from the outside, looking in really successful artists, right? Mega stars. We’re talking about. Artists that [00:31:00] by every stretch of the imagination is successful.
[00:31:02] And however you wanted to want to define that, but behind the curtain in my office, where they can disclose and be who they are and provide confidential information, it was a different story. There was a lot of fear. There was a lot. I don’t feel like I’m in control of my brand. I don’t feel like I’m in control of my life.
[00:31:19] I’m doing X, Y, and Z because I’m trying to cope with the pain. I mean, so there was a lot of that happening. There were a lot of tears. There were a lot of crying on, on shoulders and I wanted to figure out ways to help creators, right. Maintain an understanding of. The business side of things, or to get a grasp of the business side of things of the entertainment business, but also to help them control their Ownorship.
[00:31:47] Right. And get a hold of their Ownorship of their art. Because at the end of the day, a lot of the conversations were around, well, I have kids now and my kids will one day have grandkids and I create all this great stuff. [00:32:00] But someone else owns it. Right? And so the name owner is actually comes from own doors.
[00:32:05] It’s a play on words. It’s like, we wanted to make sure that artists own their masters and catalog and publishing because that’s one of their tickets to generational wealth. They just happen to have a title. That fans love that people around the world, or if it’s a local artist, the local art is the local community loves that talent.
[00:32:26] And so what happens after that talent either goes, or the artists is no longer, unfortunately with us, right? W how are their kids protected? How are their grandkids protected? We see this with Henry Ford. We see this with Rockefeller. We see this. Warren buffet, bill gates. Like they figure out ways to impact the world either from a philanthropic standpoint or leaving something for their kids.
[00:32:49] And so it’s of course even more sensitive to me, me, because I’m well aware of the challenges that the black community faces in terms of generational wealth and [00:33:00] being able to leave things for kids and their grandkids. Owner is actually came about from reading the tea leaves when it comes to the industry and also surrounding myself with smart people within the industry that also had the mindset of this needs to change, right?
[00:33:16] We need to shift the Ownorship we need to, we need to provide artists with the tools and resources to think about themselves as a business, as opposed to putting out music and then seeing what happens at, beyond that. That was how the business came about. With respect to going back to court buddy, for a second, we felt like we had grown the business to a point and it hired great leaders to the point where we didn’t have to be involved in the day-to-day and the management of the business, the business is venture backed.
[00:33:49] So when you’re venture backed, everything is accelerated. It’s like you’re poor and jet fuel into it. You’re going at Mach five speed when you have venture [00:34:00] dollars and that’s what’s happening at Ownors right now, we have venture dollars in the company. And so. Everything is going at Mach five speed. And you have to be a certain type of founder to appreciate that and to want that.
[00:34:13] And so, you know, we’ve been fortunate to do it across multiple companies, but the reason for stepping out from court buddy was okay, this was an accidental business for us. Anyway, we have great leaders in place. We have great investors in a lot of cases, and so we can confidently move on to our next venture.
[00:34:31] You know, my wife, who I tell her all the time, I’m like, I know I kind of strung you along and you into, into court buddy. And I, I certainly appreciate you being there, but I, I know that you want to do other things. So she wanted to write a children’s book. She wanted to help out children that were experiencing grief.
[00:34:50] So she not only wrote that children’s book, she also. Created a company called guardian lane that actually provides video content and digital [00:35:00] tools for children that are going through a grieving process, right. By helping them overcome that from a mental standpoint, a psychological standpoint. So yeah, these are things that we wanted to do.
[00:35:10] So we essentially got back to, we never lost sight of always wanting to create value for people and solve problems, but we just wanted to do it with, with new ventures. And so that’s what we did.
[00:35:22] Dan: [00:35:22] Pretty amazing actually, you know, it’s almost like being at the top of your game and that’s a athlete or something and you walk away, but I understand this desire to figure out ways to, to additionally help out and make an impact.
[00:35:35] So tell us a little bit about Ownors from a technical perspective. So I know there’s a analytical AI aspect to the business. Maybe tell us a little bit, how does that work? How does that. Impact his ability to the tracking and the payments. Tell us a little bit about how it works.
[00:35:50] James Jones: [00:35:50] We help artists essentially figure out all aspects of their business, which is, which is their arts, which is their, their craft. Right? So [00:36:00] the way that works. The artists connect all of their streaming accounts on to our platform. We then provide similar to, if you were to look up a company on the stock exchange and you can see like how the stock has performed over the last year, over the last six months, over the last week, over the last day or the last hour, we do that similarly.
[00:36:24] And we provide graphs and analytics. So they’re able to track how they’re doing from a financial standpoint or how their music is doing. And then we provide recommendations to the AIML comes in where based on their numbers, we can say you should be receiving X amount of money. You could receive this. If you, if you wanted it, you should be receiving X amount of payouts on a monthly basis or, you know, six month basis.
[00:36:49] And the other part is if you want it to speak to someone in the industry that can help you figure out how to write a commercially appealable book that can help you figure out the marketing aspects [00:37:00] of the promoting of your music or your, your art. Then we recommend you speak to these folks. And these are industry heavyweights.
[00:37:08] These are ANRs from major record labels. These are our founders and co-founders and CEOs of record labels, publishing companies, sync licensing companies. So. If you needed an extra resource, a human resource to help you navigate some of the challenges that you’re facing in your business, then the AI would recommend that you speak to these people.
[00:37:31] So that’s the way, the way the product works. We launched actually during the pandemic, we founded the company, I guess, in early 20, 20. And then we spent about half of 2020 just building out the product and talking to different artists, different creators and learning from it. Understanding what their pain points were.
[00:37:50] I had my personal experiences as a lawyer, you know, speaking to different artists. I understood, I had a, somewhat of a understanding of what artists [00:38:00] need and what their desires and fears were, but I still was humble enough to put together a team. Where we focused on still learning from artists and listening to what they had to say and what their pain points were and what kept them up at night.
[00:38:13] So that’s something that we focused hard on. We didn’t want to just create something that we put out there and said, okay, is this a vitamin for people? Is this a painkiller? It was more important for us to learn as much as we could from the artist’s standpoint in terms of what they needed. So there were a few things that some of our assumptions were validated because of those discussions with artists, others.
[00:38:35] I’ll give you an example. We had artists that want it too control their, their destiny by owning their masters and catalog. Right. So that was pretty much the overwhelming majority, but then there were some artists that were like, I’m not interested in, in talking to, or getting signed. For example, I’m not really interested in getting signed to a label.
[00:38:53] So that was one part of, of what we did early on. We wanted to help artists figure out how to get signed by a record label, [00:39:00] but that assumption turned out to be an incorrect assumption because a lot of artists want it to be. They just want it to maintain their independence, but also have a lot of the advantages, I guess, too, that comes with signing with a label such as airplay and you know, those advances.
[00:39:18] So that was one assumption that proved to be off for us. And so the point is we spent a lot of time just doing a bunch of learning. And then in November of last year we launched and we have been just we’ve we’ve taken off ever since we had some early investors. From from my previous venture from court buddy that joined and invest it.
[00:39:37] And then from there, it was, we were talking about two different spaces. We’re talking about legal tech versus entertainment, tech and AI. And so, and also the FinTech component too. So you’re not going to have the same investors. You just have some investors that are like, well, I know you. I know your track record, so I’m going to invest because of you.
[00:39:57] Right? And so we were able to, to [00:40:00] raise money and hire some great people and we’ve been offered running ever since.
[00:40:04] Dan: [00:40:04] I love it. So we’re going to take another short break and hear more about Ownors and James. So we’ll be right back with James Jones from owner.
[00:40:13]BLCKVC: [00:40:13] Hi,
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[00:41:12] Dan: [00:41:12] So we’re back with James from Ownors. You’ve talked a lot about fundraising and you’ve done quite a bit of it. Maybe you can share a little bit about your perspective as a black founder, specifically, maybe about that journey. What have you learned? What challenges have you faced in raising money?
[00:41:27]James Jones: [00:41:27] The challenges are to put it lightly. They are enormous. One thing about me is whenever someone presents me with a bunch of statistics and the statistics are by all stretches of the imagination, they are, you know, almost like doomsday, right. And because we’re talking about fundraising now, I’ll just throw this statistic out less than 2% of startups receive any type of benefits.
[00:41:54] So we were talking about 2% out of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem. What’s [00:42:00] even worse is the amount of investment that black founders get a brown founders get black and brown founders. It’s like 0.002% or something like that. And so when you hear that, the first thing you think. Yeah. And this is just a natural thought that you would, that you would have is this is impossible for me, right?
[00:42:19] There’s no way I can raise any money. The odds are stacked against me, but I’ve always been of the opinion and it’d be taught to anyone. They’ll tell you this. My father even told me he was like, you’re almost like a dumb. You believe that in any scenario you’re going to come out on top, maybe he’s right.
[00:42:35] Maybe in some cases I have been, you know, ignorance is bliss or whatever you want to call it. But in this case, when I heard those statistics, I said the hell with them, essentially, I am going to figure out a way to defy those odds. I mean at the time, it wasn’t me thinking like, you know, I want to do this across different startups, but that’s what has happened now.
[00:42:56] Right? I’ve been able to defy the odds across different startups. So [00:43:00] that was the backdrop that went into fundraising. Right. And so we actually had a pretty bad experience with the first group of investors. They were like an angel group in south Florida. What I say a bad experience. We pitched to the bigger group.
[00:43:15] They wanted to talk to us about the business. And so we said, Another call or another in-person meeting. And they were supposedly doing due diligence on the company. And I kept hearing this won’t sell, we had sales, hearing those types of things. It was like, did you guys even go through the due diligence?
[00:43:34] I mean, materials that we submitted, why are we even here? Ultimately they didn’t invest. We didn’t expect them to know. But the stories got better. I mean, we, we ended up getting investment from a number of great firms that started with finder startups. They were our first institutional VC that put outside capital into the company.
[00:43:52] And this is a core buddy, but the fundraising process was a huge challenge. There’s no doubt in my mind that a large part of [00:44:00] it was because. Of race. And the reason why I say that is because when you’re in conversations and people, they make comments like, well, you seem to be competent enough. Now, keep in mind, this is a company that we created.
[00:44:11] That’s growing, we’re scaling. We have revenue, we have customers, we have active users, all the different metrics that investors should be checking. You know, it’s almost like sure you have that, but you’re black. I call it the rebuttable presumption, right? This is a law school term. But essentially what I tell founders is that.
[00:44:31] Black and brown, there’s a presumption that you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you created a company that is going well, there’s still a presumption that, you know, but maybe you got lucky, right? So it’s like the presumption is that you don’t know what you’re doing, and we’re not talking about the black people or lad people creating these rebuttable presumptions.
[00:44:47] Right. We’re talking about other people create these rebuttable presumptions. If you’re white, they’re presumptions that you do know what you’re doing. And the rebuttable part comes in where someone can say, well, Proven that you don’t know what you’re doing. So, you know, the [00:45:00] presumption now goes out the door.
[00:45:03] And so when you think about that, you’re not starting off on equal footing, right? If you’re at the presumption that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can prove that you do know what you’re doing, you’re starting off at a disadvantage than someone that is, there’s a presumption that they do know what they’re doing, and then they can prove that they don’t, that’s how fundraising works.
[00:45:21] I think the other thing is. When, you know, 90 plus percent of the people that are writing the checks don’t look like me. And they’re writing checks to people that look like their son or daughter. Then you also start off on a wrong foot. That’s the challenge that you face. You have to get creative with how you fund it.
[00:45:39] You know, that’s what we did. We just got really creative. We ended up focusing on lead investors, investors that believed in diversity before it was cool to believe in diversity. We navigated it, but there were meetings where I remember there was this VC that in the middle of me pitching, and my wife was there too.
[00:45:57] He just got up and washed his hands. He had shaken our [00:46:00] hands and he got up and washed them as if, to say like, you know, I feel dirty for touching you that we were in. Where the VC was not talking about the merits of the business. He was talking about how I was a man of large size. So I needed to deescalate the room.
[00:46:14] And again, this has nothing to do with the merits of the business. This was all about wow, your race and what you need to do and what you cannot do. And the list goes on and on. I remember being in a board meeting, there was an investor, a black investor that wanted to invest, and we had already raised several rounds of money.
[00:46:35] And so this particular board member was like, why do you want to take money from a Mexican? We were like, wait, what? He he’s. First of all, he’s a very highly respected venture capitalists that happens to be. And you got that wrong. You call them a Mexican it’s like what is going on here? Right. And so that’s what I mean by this is not to complain.
[00:46:54] This is not to cast a bad light on VC or investment or, you know, the [00:47:00] fundraising process. But it’s me essentially telling you that that’s the reality. That’s what we had to deal with. And there are many more stories, but again, you have to defy the odds. So for us, it was like, yes, that exists. There was a book that Michael Jordan wrote, or it was a book about Michael Jordan, the air Jordan phenomenon.
[00:47:18] I think this was like the 92 and 93 bulls team. Or maybe it may have been even earlier year, they were doing their battles with the Detroit pistons. And so they had called a time. And in the huddle, all the players are just complaining, man. They’re not playing fair. They’re filing, filing us. They’re they’re, you know, they’re punching us, they’re kicking us.
[00:47:38] And Jordan essentially looked at everyone and said, yeah, they’re doing it to me too. I’m out there with you guys. I’m in the trenches too. The question is what are you gonna do? So that’s the mentality that I had going into these meetings. It was like, yes, you’re not from San Francisco. You know, you don’t know the landscape, these investors, they invest in certain types of people [00:48:00] and they invest people that look like them.
[00:48:01] You don’t look like them. They’re they’re saying these things about them. It has nothing to do with the merits of your business. Okay. So what are you going to do about it? Right. And so that’s the mentality that I had. I will say that fundraising for Ownors has been a lot easier. It still has been extremely difficult, but it’s been a lot easier now.
[00:48:20] But I think part of the reason is because I have a network now I don’t have to go through those hurdles of like hearing someone say. Yes. We know it’s July 1st, but I can’t meet with you until December. And you’re like, well, why is that? Well, because, uh, I got all this other stuff. I mean, just all these different excuses right now.
[00:48:40] What I hear is okay, today is July 1st. Can we meet on Monday? How about the weekend? So that’s, that’s what I’m hearing now is it’s a different scenario, a different story, but the fact that founders have to go through that. I have to, to navigate that when all they want to do is focus on building a business and bringing on [00:49:00] potential value, add investors to help them grow into a multi-billion dollar company.
[00:49:04] Like we’re building Ownors, right? The fact that you have to go through those crazy steps, it’s almost like hazing, right? It’s like, you’re, you’re going through all of these different things. What’s the end result is the end result to show everyone that you’re now a member of this Greek organization.
[00:49:18] That’s what it feels like. It’s like you’re going through this whole hazing period. And I’m not sure if it, it may make you a better founder because it puts like some battle scars on you and it helps you understand how the process works, how the fundraising process works. It makes you certainly makes you tougher because it’s an emotional roller coaster.
[00:49:35] And this is probably cliche, but it’s like, you know, nothing worth having comes easy. Right? You have to put in that work. I think it says a lot about you when you’re able to not just do it once, but do it several times across different startups. Right. And go through the fundraising process and come out on that.
[00:49:52] And have great investors that can help propel your company. So it was a challenge, but it was a challenge that we accepted. We didn’t make any [00:50:00] excuses. We sort of knew what we were getting into when we came, when it came to the types of pushback or uproar, or maybe not uproar, but the pushback and the, uh, the, the challenges that we were going to face as founders.
[00:50:13] But you figure it out.
[00:50:15] Dan: [00:50:15] Very inspirational. So we’ve come to the end of our time, James. So just quickly, we always leave a call to action to our audiences or ways that we can be helpful to them Ownors. And maybe also just share ways to get ahold of you or your social handles or your URL. So people know how to get ahold of you.
[00:50:30] James Jones: [00:50:30] Sure at Twitter, it’s at Ownors, O w N O R S on Instagram is Ownors Inc. O w N O R S Inc. Those are probably the best ways to, to get in touch with us. And we’re looking forward to getting feedback from you and hopefully having conversations with you as well.
[00:50:46]Dan: [00:50:46] Awesome. Well, thanks again, James was super appreciative of your time.
[00:50:50] James Jones: [00:50:50] Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
[00:50:52] Dan: [00:50:52] We’d like to thank our guests, James Jones and our sponsorBLCKVC.
[00:50:56] This podcast was produced by me, Dan Kihanya.
[00:51:00] [00:50:59] Audio editing and production by We Edit Podcasts.
[00:51:03] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listento. That’s listen, T O.
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[00:51:15] Thanks so much for tuning in.
[00:51:17] I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.