Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 46
james chapman, plain sight November 2021
[00:00:00] Yeah, I’ll never forget. It was when I got cut from the D League after training camp. And I remember just going out into the parking lot and I was like, why? God, I’ll never forget that I sat in that parking lot. And I was like, why God. Well, cause I felt like I got so close, you know, at the, at that time, the NBA Development League was, was pretty popular and they were a good feeder to at least getting a look for the NBA.
[00:00:27] And so when I got cut from that and I thought I had a really good chance and after that, so. And then I said, okay, you know, now it’s time to pick yourself up. You know, you had your moments to be down about this a little bit and you know, you’re human, but then I, it didn’t take me long to start trying to refocus my thinking and say, okay, what do I want to do?
[00:00:45] What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. That was James Chapman, founder and CEO of Plain Sight, a company making, networking a whole lot easier by helping you make the right connections [00:01:00] at events and workplaces, and even online from anywhere.
[00:01:03] James started as an aspiring NBA player from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He made it all the way to the NBA’s D League. That’s where the dream ended and the next season began. James started loading boxes for FedEx. His hustle led him to new opportunities. And eventually starting to different businesses all along the way, sharing his amazing hustle, inspiration on Twitter. Later, turning the collection into a book aptly named #TheHustle. But it was a chance to work with legendary Detroit businessman. Dan Gilbert, that led to his third startup journey, Plain Sight.
[00:01:33] James has a great story. You’ll want to listen in.
[00:01:36] Our episode is sponsored by Founders Live, a global platform built to inspire, educate, and entertain the modern entrepreneur. And coming December 1st Founders Live will have the global entrepreneurship celebration and competition known as Founders LiveFest 2021. This is a culmination of all their regional events, featuring the most amazing startup presentations, literally in the world. To find out more about Founders Live or LiveFest, be sure to [00:02:00] visit founderslive.com or check for a link in the show notes.
[00:02:03] Before we continue, please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast or available anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube. And if you like what you hear, drop us a review on apple or at podchaser.com.
[00:02:15] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:30] 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 backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host. Dan Kihanya. Let’s get on it
[00:02:47] Today, we have James Chapman, founder and CEO of Plain Sight, a company that helps you make the right connections at events and workspaces or connect online from anywhere. Welcome to the show, James, we’re super excited to have you on.
[00:02:59] Thanks for [00:03:00] making the time. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here with you and talk, shop and talk. All other things are related to shop as well. So thanks for allowing me to join it.
[00:03:11] We’re glad to have you to get started. Why don’t we help the listeners understand what exactly is?
[00:03:18] Yeah. So plain side is a tool for you to be able to make the right connections at events and workspaces or online from anywhere.
[00:03:24] And as business professionals, we’re always trying to meet people to grow whatever venture or project that we may be working on. But that process is pretty much done at random. There’s no succinct way to be able to make those connections or those valuable connections in a meaningful and intentional way.
[00:03:42] Uh, and so that’s what we want to do at plain sight. We want to make it easy for people to make the right connection.
[00:03:47] I love it. Then we’re going to talk a little bit about the co-working world. And I used to run a co-working space and I totally identify with, you know, sort of the little messages you get from other people, like who’s in there now. And who should I talk to? [00:04:00] So we’ll explore that a little bit more when we dig deeper into the company and the app. But before we go there, let’s hear a little bit more about James. Like where are you from? Where’d you grow up?
[00:04:09] Yeah, so born and raised from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up there my whole life. I didn’t leave Chattanooga until it was time for college. And for college, I ended up going and getting a basketball scholarship in Virginia, actually. Um, at a little division two school called Bluefield, Virginia. And after college, uh, you know, I tried my hand at the NBA, but I definitely fell short. I ended up making it to this like NBA Development League that they used to run called the D League.
[00:04:39] I think it’s the G league now, what was the D League back then? And, you know, I got cut out to training camp there and then, you know, bounced around and tried to do some overseas stuff, a little. But eventually after that, I made my way back to Chattanooga after, you know, my hoop dreams kind of deflated a little bit there originally born and raised Chattanooga.
[00:04:55] Let’s unpack that a little bit. I mean, this sounds like a fun aspect of the story. So [00:05:00] you, you grew up in Chattanooga. Were you, were you studious? Were you an athlete? Sounds like you definitely reach some high levels of being an athlete, but like how would you define yourself as a young person growing up?
[00:05:11] If you had to kind of navigate who you were.
[00:05:15] I would say just the traditional student athlete, you know, I was very passionate about basketball. I wasn’t as passionate about school, but I did well in school. You know, I knew it was necessary. And so I paid attention and I focused and I, I got the grades that I needed to get or else my mom would’ve snatched the basketball away from me.
[00:05:33] So I definitely didn’t didn’t want that to happen. And so, you know, the internet. Got it covered around, you know, around that time. And so man, it started to become easier and easier to find the answers that you needed for school. So, you know, I’m sure kids these days, I don’t even know how they even beat out, keep from just falling asleep in class because you just Google all the answers if you need it to that’s another top.
[00:05:56] But yeah, I was just saying, you know, traditional student athlete.
[00:05:59] [00:06:00] And did you have dreams of the NBA?
[00:06:03] I did. I always wanted to go to the NBA. I wasn’t wanting to play at the highest level. I’m just very competitive kids and still am very competitive man now. But I wanted to play at the highest level I wanted to, to go to the NBA. It didn’t matter how tall I was with that. Nobody from the city had been to the NBA or anything like that. It just, just super determined to try to get there, or at least, uh, you know, try my hand at it, but I definitely want it to be.
[00:06:28] Did you find people were like friends, teachers, coaches, family, were they supportive?
[00:06:33] Like, ah, James, you definitely can make it. Or they like, you know, James, maybe you should have a couple of backup plans or like what kind of feedback were you getting from folks?
[00:06:42] It was more backup plans than anything. I think people who were really close to me told me, you know, you can do anything that you want to do. And even my teachers, I think that they all acknowledged that I was very good. So there was no surprise there. Uh, one of the best, if not the best on our team, but you know, it’s just so hard [00:07:00] to get to the NBA, man. It really doesn’t even matter if you’re the best person on your team. That’s everybody in the NBA was the best person on their team.
[00:07:07] Right. It’s so like you gotta, you gotta really be specially. And you have to really have a different level of basketball IQ and things of that nature to be able to play and make millions doing. So, so I would say more than not people were like, yeah, go to school. Yeah. Yeah. So I think a lot of people encouraged me to get a basketball scholarship, which was great.
[00:07:27] You know, I think a lot of people really saw that. The next tangible step for me, but MBA, not so much.
[00:07:34] Yeah. I mean, it’s so hard to think about that with people because who knows, right. Like you said, some of it is luck, serendipity, you know, determination is, it’s kind of a, just a given right. Talent and determination there again.
[00:07:48] So you come out of college and you were tuned for the NBA and when kind of had that sort of like proximity to the summit, but not quite there. How did you adjust your [00:08:00] thinking as that peak sort of happened before you got actually into the league? Like, how were you thinking about that? Like, oh, I have to start thinking about something else or was there a time when you were like, well, let me just try a little longer. Did you think about that?
[00:08:13] I think, you know, because I played at a small school in college. I was like, all right, this is going to be a long shot. Right? And so I really started to put myself in the mindset of, well, I’ll work my way up. I’ll play overseas. I’ll maybe try out some of these development leads or maybe trial some of these camps and maybe I’ll get lucky.
[00:08:31] I’ll get sought out by the right person. I’ll be able to meet the right trainers. I’ll be able to, you know, do some of the necessary things. I need to be able to at least give myself a chance. To make a team, you know, I just wanted to make a team or make it to summer league or something like that. And so as it started to become more and more real that making it to the NBA was going to be a bit of a long shot.
[00:08:53] I think I’d always planned in my mind. All right, you got to figure out what you’re going to do. If this [00:09:00] doesn’t work right. If you don’t go to the NBA because it’s a long shot, what are the things that you’re going to do? Like what’s your backup plan? What are the things that you’re really interested in and passionate about it?
[00:09:09] You see yourself doing this from a professional standpoint. So, you know, I was always pretty realistic about the situation, especially by the time I was in college.
[00:09:19] When you basically said that’s behind me and I need to go do something else.
[00:09:24] Yeah, I’ll never forget. It was when I got cut from the D League after training camp. And I remember just going out into the parking lot and I was like, why God, I’ll never forget that I sat in that parking lot. And I was like, why God, because I felt like I got so close. You know, at the, at that time, the NBA Development League was, was pretty popular and they were a good feeder to, you know, at least getting a look for the NBA.
[00:09:48] And so when I got cut from that and I thought I had a really good chance. Yeah. I said, why God? And after that settled, And then I said, okay, you know, now it’s time to pick yourself up. You know, you had your moment to, to [00:10:00] be down about this a little bit and you know, you’re human, but then I, it didn’t take me long to start trying to refocus my thinking and say, okay, what do I want to do?
[00:10:08] And I started thinking about coaching. Of course, I was like, all right, you know, you know, it didn’t make it point, but maybe I’ll go back. And I’ll, I’ll coach at my old high school and, you know, do some other stuff on the side and things of that nature till, until I just kinda figured out, maybe that’ll at least allow me to close to the game and things of that nature. So I think that was my, uh, my immediate way of thinking about it, but it didn’t take me long to adjust.
[00:10:29] Wow. Yeah. I can imagine that feeling is just so overwhelming. Especially like you said, you’re on this, like I’m just persevering and I’m so close. It’s gotta be tough.
[00:10:40] So you make that call you’re onto the next thing. Like what happens next? Where do you go? Like, how do you think about what you do next?
[00:10:47] Yeah, so I was in Texas at the time because I was working out with the Texas. And so I moved back to Chattanooga. I was like, well, let me get back to a familiar place, safe space, where I’ve got friends and family and connections where I can figure some stuff [00:11:00] out.
[00:11:00] And I went back home and I started like, I was like, uh, loading boxes at FedEx and like to weigh him 3:00 AM, right. Something crazy like that, like something that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sustain. You know, it’s not something that I necessarily wanted to do. But it was a way to get money in my pocket.
[00:11:18] Uh, and it was a, it was an opportunity that at least buy me some time. Right. And so that’s what I did at first, I moved back home and I started working at FedEx and it started doing like some odds and end jobs, like refereeing, like little summer camps and all of that type of stuff. And then I would also, I think I ended up joining a, like a workforce development program, like kinda helping you prepare for, for different job opportunities and that sort of thing. And so that was my next step.
[00:11:44] That takes a lot of humility, really, and strength of resolve, like to go from, you know, you could be going into the NBA, which is, you know, even for all the great aspects of it, of being a professional at something that he probably loved. I mean, it comes with a lot of. [00:12:00] Perks. And so I’m sure that’s part of the dream is, uh, you know, living that lifestyle or whatnot and to, to have to shift gears and be like, okay, I need to reset.
[00:12:10] And that basically means I need to, I got a sling some boxes for a while while I think about what I do next, that’s, that’s a pretty amazing transition.
[00:12:18] Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t an easy one for sure. And you’re right. It was a very humbling moment for me, but I think I’ve had a number of humbling moments over the years.
[00:12:29] That allows me to have perspective whenever I do obtain success. Right. Because I just realize all the things that it has taken me and all that. The setbacks that I’ve had along the way. And all of the times that things didn’t really pan out and go my way. And so I think it gives me that perspective that nothing’s guaranteed, nothing’s promised nothing’s old.
[00:12:51] So you should really value every opportunity and don’t boast about it or brag about opportunity. But just take them for what they are in that moment and try to make the most [00:13:00] out of them. And so that was my mentality then, and I think that’s still my mentality now. And it helped me to not look at the situation that I didn’t want to necessarily be in with them loading boxes at FedEx and just get so down.
[00:13:12] Okay. He lost a net to just saying, you know what, there can be something more, you don’t know exactly what that is yet, but we’ll figure it out.
[00:13:19] Very impressive, very mature wisdom for somebody in that situation. I don’t know that I would have been so gracious about it myself. But so after that you obviously saw it other horizons, what happens after FedEx?
[00:13:34] Yeah. And I think the other thing that I’ll add to that too, I just have this extreme confidence and belief in myself too, that I’ll always figure it out. That down doesn’t mean out for me in that there’s always going to be a time and space for me to be able to get to wherever else that I really want to be in life, even if I’m not there right now.
[00:13:53] And so I think that I showed up to Phoenix everyday with that mentality, knowing that this wasn’t going to be forever, this was just something [00:14:00] that’s temporary because it’s not. And actually I started taking the workforce development program that I joined pretty serious. And so I was always asking if they needed extra help, you know, after hours or with the additional duties or additional assignments and things of that nature.
[00:14:15] And what ended up happening is that they liked my mentality and my house was so much that they hired me on to be a program manager of the program that I was acting. Uh, they were like, this guy is always asking to do different stuff. He knows the program, you know, like the back of his hand now. Right. And maybe he can actually help some other people that’s been coming through this program too.
[00:14:36] And so they offered me a gig, came completely out of left field. Didn’t know that that was going to happen. But you know, it was actually a great opportunity for me that that started to get things in the, in the right way.
[00:14:47] I’m hearing a lot of entrepreneurial attributes, you know, this confidence in yourself, this willingness to look and see what else needs to be done. And can I help do it as entrepreneurs? We learned that those are [00:15:00] sort of part of the daily experience when you’re a founder. Nature versus nurture whether that was your, your athletic experience that like trained you in that way or your inherent nature. That definitely came out. That’s really cool. That’s a great story about people showing up and how that makes a difference. Right? People recognize when you show up in a committed way.
[00:15:22] That’s right. And again, I was doing something that I didn’t necessarily want to do or plan on doing, but just wanting to make the most out of it. And if I’m going to do this and I’m going to be here, then I want to be the best, you know, I want to be the best at whatever it is that I’m giving my time to, this is my.
[00:15:38] And so we don’t get time back once it’s gone, it is gone. And so if I’m going to be here, I want to really maximize every, every opportunity. And I didn’t know those people and they didn’t know me, but I feel like they saw my work ethic and they saw my willingness and that, that entrepreneurial mentality.
[00:15:55] And so it didn’t end up landing. A gig that was more self-sufficient. So I [00:16:00] was able to quit FedEx and I was able to transition into this job that they’re starting to invest in me a little bit. And it was a, a workforce development program that was federally funded. And so now I’m actually a federal employee, you know?
[00:16:13] And so that ended up being able to, I think, lead to other opportunities that were more entrepreneurial. So I’m thankful for it.
[00:16:22] That’s awesome. And a great story. As you kind of said, we appreciate and recognize the peaks more when we go through the valleys. And so I think you definitely have a great sense of what it takes to move forward and to pursue. Well, we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with James Chapman, founder and CEO of Plain Sight.
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[00:17:30] All right. We’re back with James from Plain Sight. So James, tell us a little bit more about, we kind of alluded to the co-working world. How did you end up with a coworking space? It was in Chattanooga, I believe, right?
[00:17:41] Yeah, Chattanooga. So when I was working in that workforce development program, I ended up climbing the ladder pretty quickly there and then realizing that there wasn’t too many more positions for me to actually go to within, inside that organization.
[00:17:56] And so I started to ask myself, all right, you know, you’ve done [00:18:00] this for about, I think four years now did for about three or four years. And, you know, I had a couple of positions within those four years, and I think that’s when I started to get the itch to start my own thing and get out, you know, I feel like for us in business and entrepreneurship are very related and if I wasn’t going to play basketball, I said, well, I should try my.
[00:18:22] At business, right? Because I’d already always toyed around with entrepreneurship a little bit at, at, you know, younger. And even in college, I would, you know, sell stuff here and there just to be able to make ends meet and take girls to the movies and stuff like that. And so, you know, I think that what was next for me was saying, all right, what do you want to start?
[00:18:40] You know, let’s be your own boss here. Let’s start something. What ideas, you know, And before I got into the coworking space, I actually started out all change company, a mobile or change business, where we were subcontracting with mobile mechanics to go onsite, to do people’s oil changes. And I’m not a mechanic.
[00:18:58] I don’t have any kind of auto [00:19:00] background or anything like that. It was just a random idea that I had and I felt like it was something I would use. And, you know, I was always going over my oil changes. So I was like, all right, I’m. Get this funded and started them. I quit the workforce gig and try my hand at this.
[00:19:15] And how did that go? Not well, you know, it was okay. It started off pretty bad. Let me be honest. Right. You know, going to individuals to do the oil changes, there’s just so many different operational barriers that you have to overcome. Whereas with parking lots and parking garages and all of this type of stuff, you don’t need to really think about it until you get into it.
[00:19:37] And what we then pivoted to start doing. Actually serving fleets, which that works, uh, right. So we would go out to like a company that had just a fleet of trucks and cars and things of that nature. And they’re driving those vehicles one by one to get the oil changes on them. And so we would go and show up and just do the entire fleet in one swoop.
[00:19:58] So they keep their cars on the [00:20:00] road. Right. And so that was good. And that started to do well, but I, I wasn’t as passionate about it and how I ended up getting into coworking. And once the business gap. And it actually did start to have some success. A number of people would reach out to me and say, Hey, how did you get your business plan put together?
[00:20:19] How did you get this done? How did you get that done? And they were all coming to me usually after hours because they worked the nine to five, you know? And so I opened up this workspace almost to have it be like my little mini office hours to just meet with people and have conversations with them and give those some game.
[00:20:38] And lo and behold a lot. Because, you know, coffee shops close at six, people wanted and needed a dedicated space to work and be around that energy and it was free. So, you know, people will just show up to the workspace and work. And now I look up and I’m running a co-worker space, you know, just out of, out of the blue, I didn’t even plan on it.
[00:20:59] I just kind of fell [00:21:00] into it, but I was definitely more passionate about that than the all change business. And that’s why the oil change business was really short-lived because I started to lose passion for it and started to have. There’s other things that I just randomly fell into.
[00:21:14] That’s a great story. And I sense that there’s definitely a common theme here of your ability to recognize the opportunities. And, you know, some people start with the product or the technology or the idea, right. And then they sort of hunt around who’s the right customer and what’s the right segment and all that. And you kind of taken this approach of, and I sense, this was plain sight.
[00:21:37] Like, oh, people are introducing me to this a need or this insight about the market. Hmm. Interesting. Right. And, and you allow it to sort of, again, sickly, you know, sort of build the wave. And then at some point you’re like, oh, okay, this is a business.
[00:21:52] Exactly. I think that has been my approach. And you nailed it from just like a [00:22:00] philosophy standpoint. I think I started to fall in love with problems. If you tell me you have a problem. I started thinking about how I can solve it. And then once I figure out that I potentially could solve it or have a solution. Then I’m immediately going to think, well, is this something I could monetize? And also, do I care enough about this problem that I would like to continue to try to solve this problem every day?
[00:22:22] And so it really has to be both, right. Is identifying a problem, Dennis, asking yourself, do you feel like you’re the right person to provide the solution? And if both are yes. Then the last question you should be asking yourself is, do you want to solve this problem every day? And if so, then take your shot. That’s been my approach.
[00:22:40] I love it. So you start this coworking space and at some point you go from Chattanooga to Detroit and Quicken’s involved somewhere in there and there’s plain sight. So tell us how those dots are connected.
[00:22:52] So I actually started to get on the radar of some people who were running entrepreneurial ecosystems in different [00:23:00] cities, right?
[00:23:00] Because I was doing some speaking and talking about workaholics workaholics was the space and talking about just some of the. Insight that I had on community building and helping entrepreneurs because now I’m an entrepreneur helping other entrepreneurs. Right. And that becomes pretty attractive. So other people who are stakeholders in these different entrepreneurial ecosystems, when they’re looking at best practices and things that they can maybe do to help their budding entrepreneurial community.
[00:23:26] And so what ended up happening is I got on the radar for some folks up in Detroit, who was the rock family of companies, Quicken loans, et cetera. They were really wanting to focus on. Reshaping and rebuilding the way that they serve entrepreneurs in the city of Detroit. And so a mentor of mine and a colleague of mine from Chattanooga was working within the organization already.
[00:23:47] And so when the opportunity came about. Man, I know this guy in Chattanooga, he’s an entrepreneur, that’s helping other entrepreneurs. He may be the right fit. I don’t know if you know, if he’s open to this opportunity, but maybe we should at least approach him about it. [00:24:00] And so when they did, I saw it as an opportunity that I could want.
[00:24:05] Learn a lot. Right? So whenever you go up to a place like Detroit and work for somebody like Dan Gilbert, who has just a number of accolades and he’s owns a basketball team, and I aspire to own a basketball team, one day, all of these other things, uh, just a self-made entrepreneur. I started to get really inspired by that and thinking to myself, well, I could take this to the next level now.
[00:24:28] Right? Like all of these things that I’ve been doing with the workspace and other stuff is. But I feel like there’s something bigger here that’s tugging at me. And so I actually got pulled away from the workspace. Not because I didn’t like it or didn’t want to keep doing it. I actually really love doing it, but I just felt like it was going from the D League to the NBA.
[00:24:50] You’re right. You’re right. If we’re going to talk about comparisons. Right. And so I was like, all right. Yeah. I want to go to the next level. I want to keep climbing this mountain. So I’m [00:25:00] going to move to Detroit. Going there and started a $1.2 million pitch competition called Detroit demo day. That happened every year.
[00:25:08] That’s a pretty big jump though. I mean, uh, I lived in Detroit for awhile. Uh, I haven’t really lived in a Tennessee or Chattanooga, but I imagine that’s still was, that’s not like moving next to.
[00:25:19] No, not at all. I mean, the dynamics are completely different if you’re just, well, from a city’s perspective, Detroit has a lot of culture and a lot of history and a lot of success.
[00:25:30] And one of the greatest American cities right over the years and Chattanooga is, is smaller as a mid-sized town. You know, all of my family’s there, so I know everybody. And so I’m going into a completely different situation for sure, from just an everyday living in lifestyle perspective. I just saw the opportunity is so great that I couldn’t pass it up.
[00:25:51] And I feel like if I didn’t take the opportunity, I would have had regrets. And so I didn’t want to have any regrets I wanted to see and explore.
[00:25:58] So tell us about Plain Sight. [00:26:00] How did the idea, how did Plain Sight emerge?
[00:26:02] So what ended up happening is probably after about three years of. Detroit demo day for Dan and his team. I went to Dan and I said, Hey, I’ve loved building this. I really enjoyed it. And now I’ve got the itch to start my own thing to get. Right. And I kept thinking about the workspace workaholics back home in Chattanooga. They kept thinking about how everybody was always asking me, Hey, chap, it wasn’t a workspace right now.
[00:26:28] If it was going to be at the space center. Can you help me get introduced to somebody or meet somebody that does this thing or that thing. And that’s when it dawned on me that technology could really solve this problem. And because I had been working with Dan who has a number of startups in his portfolio, I’ve been kind of watching and learning.
[00:26:47] Studying and getting a good understanding of tech because I don’t have a technology background whatsoever. I had never started a technology business before. And so it was because I moved to Detroit that I started to learn more, get [00:27:00] fascinated about technology, but also identified this problem that I was experienced as a community builder with my own community of trying to help them get through.
[00:27:08] And make better connections so that they could evolve and go to the next level. And so I really wanted to solve that problem at scale. And so when I went to Dan and I told him that I was going to be leaving to start my own thing, he said, well, you know, you’ve done a great job here, so I appreciate that.
[00:27:23] No harm done, but what are you building? And so when I, the way I pitched it to him, I said, all right, angel investors, And a startup founder walk into a coffee shop and Dan says, you know, all right, this sounds like a joke already. Okay, cool. And I’m like, you know, hear me out. And he’s like, uh, he’s like, you know, I said, they stayed the same by the time they leave at the same time, they compliment on each other’s glasses all the way out the door.
[00:27:48] And they never have a meaningful conversation because they are unaware that they are actually a potential valuable connection for one. Or you say, well, I bet you that happens all the time, but I haven’t. [00:28:00] Did I like really long time. I really liked this idea particularly. And so that’s how I kind of got going.
[00:28:06] You know, it was some other people who were also interested in putting their money up to bet on this idea with me. And then Dan decided to do the same thing. And that’s how playing. Became right. We’d launched it in October of 2019 on to improve the way people make connections in person and events and workspaces and things of that nature.
[00:28:27] I give you that timing because we launched this five months before it was five months before the starter was global, but I’ll pause right there and let you react to that.
[00:28:37] You’ve had those conversations quite a bit on the podcast that the world changed pretty dramatic. For every startup for some, it was a little bit more of a benefit if you can think about it that way in terms of the market, I suppose, but for most it was some hard realities around the market and consumers, and just physically being able to bring your team together or a customer.
[00:28:59] Let’s walk [00:29:00] through maybe like a customer journey. Like how does it actually work? How would you like maybe we use your example of the angel investor and the founder.
[00:29:07] So they’re on the app. They find this event that’s on the app, right? Maybe they have already been invited to the event. So they registered through plane side or through another platform or maybe.
[00:29:17] Founded on the app that it was coming up and they say, okay, I want to go to this thing. So once they say that they’re going to go on, they’ll also be able to see other people that are going to this particular event as well, so they can get a good sense of is this a type of place that I want to be at.
[00:29:30] And then once they get there and they check. We asked them in their profile, who you’re looking to meet, what are your skills, what are your interests? What are your professions? And we use that information to match you with other people that are also at that space as well as at other spaces in the area.
[00:29:45] So once you create a profile, you can check in or not, it just put your phone down in plain sight, it’s going to do the curation and the matchmaking for you, making it easy for you to make the right. So that’s how it works. And then with the spaces they event [00:30:00] organizers and these community builders, they love it because they now have an additional tool in their tool belt to enhance the experience for their attendees or for their guests and visitors.
[00:30:09] And then we also send them a curated data. So letting them know, Hey, 20% of the people who came to your event or are looking for a mentor or looking for a job or whatever the case may be. So that they can start to tailor their offerings to their community on an ongoing basis. So from a functionality standpoint, that’s how it works.
[00:30:27] That’s great. And I know one of the interesting aspects I think was really insightful is this idea of almost creating the anonymous layer or the profile is that thing that is the hero, so to speak in the process. So it’s like, I’m not matching against what somebody looks like or what I may interpret around things that can create bias, but just here’s what this person is doing and what they’re looking for…
[00:30:51] …and their capabilities. That’s it. We really want people to make connections. The right things we want, we actually try to combat unconscious bias by [00:31:00] removing profile pictures. We only use avatars and we don’t even have the ability to take your name. You can put your username, whatever you want that to be, but there’s no real names and no profile pictures. And so we’re matching people based solely around their business goals, their aspirations and their abilities.
[00:31:16] Yeah, that was a super insightful aspect of the product. So tell us, where is the company today? I mean, so maybe let’s talk about COVID first. Let’s talk about what happened during COVID, because obviously this is an industry that was transformed or decimated really overnight by COVID because of the physical presence just went away.
[00:31:37] Did your company evolve, did it happen? Hibernate for a while and go dormant. Or how did your company address what happened with COVID given that it was so material to what you do as a business.
[00:31:47] It was crazy and scary to watch, man, even as I think back about it, right? Because the pandemic hit March of 20, 20, and February of 2020.
[00:31:56] We secured a partnership with Delta for their sky lounges. [00:32:00] So every Delta sky lounge in the country is listed on the app for travelers to be able to check in at these levels. And make connections while they have idle time. Right. And so we’re thinking in our minds, now we have paths to distribution and scale, right.
[00:32:15] With a global partner and we’ve got good timing because they allow us to go to any sky lounge of our choosing once a month for a week straight to promote the application to the travelers. Well, we picked the Austin sky lounge during south by south. And for anybody that’s ever been to south by Southwest, they know that this is a breeding ground for plain sight, because all you have is people that are bouncing around to different random events, trying to make connections while they’re in town.
[00:32:41] Right. Proximity based connections. And so we couldn’t be happier. Actually. WhatsApp was probably about February early March came around and then when COVID struck me and we just watched it all be completely wiped out. Delta closed it’s sky lounge is south by [00:33:00] Southwest canceled the event, not just that event, but every in-person event, a conference in the world was canceled.
[00:33:07] And so, as you can imagine, we kind of had to have a powwow as a team and say, what do we want to do before we decided to do anything? We just started asking ourselves questions. Okay. Well, what opportunities do still present themselves? If any, what would it look like for us to stop and put things on pause?
[00:33:25] What would it look like for us to pack up the business? What would it look like for us to continue to go forward? And so to answer your question more specifically, what we decided to do was a few things. We decided that we were going to list the clean and safety precautions for physical spaces so that people could be more aware and more conscious about the places that they were going before they got there, because that was one of the things that everybody wanted to know at that particular time is, or what is this place doing?
[00:33:49] You know, are there mass there are they do, you know, do they, are they practicing social distancing in this space? And now, you know, that. And then the other thing was, we said, well, we have to help [00:34:00] people connect virtually. We can’t get around this virtual connection piece. Yeah. We plan on just in person.
[00:34:05] But I think that COVID, didn’t make the product stronger because it forced us to think about how can we connect to other people. Based on still those meaningful connections and their business goals, even if they aren’t in the same physical space. And we started to partner with organizations that were doing their virtual events via zoom.
[00:34:24] And so they would say, all right, we’re going to be talking on zoom, but you can check in on playing site. They’re going to help you make connections. They’re going to help you discover different opportunities amongst each other, et cetera, et cetera. And so now we’re kind of this well-rounded. Tool for both in-person and virtual.
[00:34:41] And we only really started to think about it because of COVID.
[00:34:44] Yeah, it’s impressive. I’m sure there were some times though, when it felt like, oh boy, how are we going to do with this and trepidation?
[00:34:52] And yeah, every, every day I’m always thinking, you know, how are we going to do this? We’re not [00:35:00] quite on the other side of things yet.
[00:35:02] And at the end of the day, plain sight is still best for in-person. Yeah. We have some other stuff, but those other things are the main, the meat and potatoes of what plain sight really does. Right. The meat and potatoes is I’m in person with people that are like-minded that I’m sharing space with that I know I want to make connections with.
[00:35:20] And plain sight is going to help me do that in an easier way, in a more tactical way. And we’re getting there and I have a whole lot. But we’re still trying to figure these things out every day,
[00:35:29] but we’ve got to talk a little bit about where Plain Sight’s going and what your big vision is, or we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with James Chapman from Plain Sight.
[00:35:39] Hi, this is Nick Hughes from Founders Live, a growing global community of entrepreneurial inspiration education and entertained. The Founders Live movement includes unforgettable livestream, happy hour pitch competitions held in over 50 cities worldwide. And the monthly events are coupled with a growing online platform where [00:36:00] articles, videos, expert talks, technologies and tools together help create world-class entrepreneurs.
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[00:36:26] So we’re back with James from Plain Sight.
[00:36:28] So James sell us if you were to, let’s say we get through whatever the new normal is going to be post COVID. And like you said, sort of that core essence of, of in person IRL, as the kids say experience, it becomes more normal again. Like, what is success defined for you for Plain Sight? Let’s say it’s however long it takes few years or whatever, till you reach that point.
[00:36:56] Like if I bumped into you in the street and said, yeah, James, remember you on the [00:37:00] show, what would you tell me? If you said UL playing site’s success, how would you measure that of them? Look like?
[00:37:05] It will probably look like a selling the company. I don’t really have any aspirations of going public or anything of that nature. Even have an idea of how many users on the platform would define that success or how much revenue in the door would be defined as success. All of those things could fluctuate and change. I won’t play site to have as much impact as we possibly can have. Getting out. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t going to go to the highest level with anything that I want to do.
[00:37:34] Right. That’s where I’m going to always aim for. And so I want everybody who’s interested in making a business connection or any type of professional connection. That’s going to better their journey. I want them on plain sight, wherever they are in the world. So that’s what success looks like for me personally, but from a tangible step.
[00:37:51] You know, we were to sell to a company that also has a similar focus and we can help that company who already is making a big impact on the world. [00:38:00] Be able to do that in a better way. That’s success for me. And I’m fine with that. And, you know, I’ll be able to walk away and go to the next challenge of whatever it is that I’m going to be doing, because there’s tons of problems that need to be solved in the world.
[00:38:13] But I think at the end of the day, if we sell the company to a bigger organization, That we can help, you know, drive the force change and allow us to have the resources that we really need to be able to do this on a global level with whomever that is, I think that that would be successful.
[00:38:29] I love it. And I love this concept of impact as a north star and letting some of those other things be sort of the, either the trailing indicators or the things that can adjust to help you aim at that.
[00:38:42] So that’s. Let’s switch gears a little bit. Let’s talk about being a black founder. So you, you have a lot of experience in the ecosystem from different lenses. And so I wonder how you would characterize, are there unique challenges that you face as a black founder?
[00:38:58] 1000% [00:39:00] and you know what? I think it starts with awareness. I’m a very aware person, very conscious person. You know, let’s go back to George Floyd that happened in 2020 that situation. Cause I think that that’s one that everybody recognizes and I think it shed a lot of light on a lot of things. Right. So let’s take that for example, what things like that happen, where everybody in the world is forced to watch.
[00:39:22] And then now everybody’s also forced to watch the responses to it by we can’t get distracted by being on airplanes and doing a bunch of business meetings and all of that type of stuff. We’re all at home. We’re all watching it. We’re all seeing it. And we’re all responding to it on our social networks.
[00:39:38] Right. And then you start to really get a sense that, okay. Two things, one, there are some pretty crappy people in the world that legit do not like you because of something that is beyond your control, meaning the color of your skin. They don’t like you. They don’t care for you. They don’t want you to win.
[00:39:59] They don’t want you to [00:40:00] be successful. That’s a fact, right. And there’s nothing you can do. You can’t talk them out of it. You can’t convince them that that way of thinking is the wrong way of thinking. And most of the times you can’t even get them to admit it, right. Because admitting them makes it that takes them down a whole other path.
[00:40:18] So now they’re going to do it in a very kind of hidden and coded encrypted kind of way. Now, the other thing that I’ll also will admit is that it started to show that there’s a lot of people who are allies, who are people that also recognize that, Hey, this is some pretty jacked up stuff and I don’t know necessarily what to do about it, but I at least want to try to help pour resources into whoever are the people that’s trying to make change for.
[00:40:46] All right. And that’s, that’s all well and good. And then you also have those people, that third piece that wasn’t even there. The people who decide to kind of latch on to that particular group and they ain’t, aren’t really going to do anything, you know, [00:41:00] because they’re kind of in the middle, but they don’t want to be standing there looking, you know, doing nothing.
[00:41:04] And so that, you know, they’re gonna make a statement or make a post or something like that. So that’s interesting too, but you also, now it’s time to go back to work. All right. The reason why I set the stage up that way is because you’re watching all this and now it’s time to go back. And so now you’re pitching to investors and when you’re trying to do business, you know, you’re sending your business proposals and things in nature in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, which of the three are you?
[00:41:30] You know, you know what I mean? Like, like who are you? And I don’t even know how to be able to necessarily figure it out. And it’s not going to be obvious all the time, but it’s intimidating, man. It makes you the, makes you a little bit so conscious, you know, your subconscious go wild a little bit. Whenever you’re saying.
[00:41:46] All right. I’m about to pitch this investor and they may not even like me just because I’m black or they may him think I’m capable just because I’m black. And so there’s some deep rooted stuff that goes on for me in particular as a black founder that I think [00:42:00] you have to have, again, that utmost confidence in yourself, that’s the only real way to overcome it.
[00:42:05] You have to say, I don’t care what the odds are. I don’t care if people don’t like me because I’m black or people think I’m incapable because I’m black or people don’t want to give me an opportunity. Over somebody else because I’m black and they’re not, you can’t even think about it, you know, and you can’t cry about it because who wants to hear about that?
[00:42:23] Who cares? You know, nobody cares. Nobody cares how hard it is for you. And so the only thing that you can do is just have the utmost confidence in yourself, but also be aware that that’s a real thing and it gets challenging. It gets really, really challenging. I was very distracted in 20. I felt like from the presidency and all of the stuff that was coming out of the white house, you know, leadership at that time from the Georgia, Florida situation and people, reactions and responses to it.
[00:42:51] People who I thought were my friends that I realized that, oh, you aren’t my friend at all, actually, because you know, if you believe that and you think this way you can’t be. [00:43:00] And so now, you know, you’re in a very distracted place and I’m trying to grow a startup that was built for an person during a global pandemic saying, you know, my 2020 was dreadful.
[00:43:14] If I’m honest with you. And it was, it was just flat out awful. And you want to get out there and you want to protest and you want to, you know, let your voice be heard for these issues that matter, or that are deeper than. But you also have a business to run and you can’t help anybody else until you can help yourself.
[00:43:30] And so there’s so many things that are problematic and conflicting when it comes to being a black founder in tech in particular. But you know, the beat goes on and you got to keep showing up no matter what.
[00:43:40] Yeah. I mean resilience. When I did a end of the year episode last year with some of the folks from my first season, that’s what they said about 2020s is like, we just got to get through it.
[00:43:52] We just, we just got to keep going show up every day and just know that there’s some light. I’m curious about, uh, you [00:44:00] mentioned allies, are there specifically as a founder, have you found, or as a black founder, have you found organizations or mentors or, or events and experiences that have been uplifting for you as a black founder?
[00:44:14] I would say people more than organizations, you know, because you can find the organization that some people in leadership or allies and some people are, but, you know, they have their own internal things. Well, But I for sure have been able to attach myself to some people who really care that are within some organizations that happen bullets and that are encouraging and things of that nature.
[00:44:34] Now we as glad founders, more than anything, we just want those groups to write a check, you know, you know, show me your support vibe, you know, put your money where your mouth is, but I also will take and appreciate any time that they don’t necessarily write it. Or don’t necessarily do business with you directly.
[00:44:51] They try to make introductions for you. They try to give you feedback. They try to really roll up their sleeves and help you. So that’s always appreciated because they don’t have to do that at all. [00:45:00] And that they have come across a lot of people that fit that description.
[00:45:04] Has that increased since George Floyd? Or did you find that was those people were always there beforehand or have you found more hands extended since George Floyd?
[00:45:16] I think the help has increased since George Floyd. Yeah. I think people have been more intentional about helping since George Floyd and not necessarily. Alrighty. If, you know, somebody asks me for help, then I’ll help them.
[00:45:29] It’s like, Hey, do you need anything? You know, how can I help you with what you’re doing? Hey, I thought about you, you know, based on these things, you know, you came to mind, you know, with all of these things, how are, how are you doing? Is there something I can do for you? So I’ve been receiving a lot of that.
[00:45:44] That’s great. And I know how powerful that can be when somebody reaches out to you that you didn’t ping them. And they’re like, Hey, just thinking about you and wondering if I can be help or something occurred in the news. And it made me think of you. I know for me, that’s pretty uplifting to know that, that I resonate with people enough for them [00:46:00] to think about me once.
[00:46:01] Exactly. Exactly because you know, entrepreneurship is a lonely game to begin with, man, and you’re trying to chase down opportunity after opportunity and so on. And somebody just throws you one or reaches out to you to at least see it, or they may see they can help you get connected to. Man that does feel good.
[00:46:19] It just, you know, the list of burden off your shoulders, even just for, for a little bit momentarily, cause you gotta be tough to do this, man. You gotta be really, really tough to do this. And that’s what people don’t understand. You know, entrepreneurs and founders are tough, especially black founders and technology. Man, we’re super tough.
[00:46:35] The modern business warrior is how the world gets changed out on the frontier. And, uh, you’re right. It’s lonely. It’s hard. Yeah. You’re constantly trying to figure out everything from how do I raise money to what color my logo should be. And, you know, in the course of a day, you’re going to set back and a celebration and another setback and another celebration.
[00:46:55] So I love telling the stories and having a venue for people to tell [00:47:00] those stories, because it’s true. So this has been an awesome conversation. So the last question we always like to end with is if you could go back, so let’s say you can choose whether it’s pre plain site or pre workaholics, but pre the entrepreneurial version of yourself.
[00:47:17] So the pre-startup James, if you could go back and give that James, some guidance, some advice, tell him what to look out for or what to run towards. What would you tell that James.
[00:47:31] Just slow down. My ambition is a gift and a curse. You know, I’ll run through a wall, I’ll work as long as it takes, and I I’ll go as fast as I, as I can at anything.
[00:47:43] But that comes with consequences. You know, you miss step, you make mistakes. You aren’t as careful. You take greater risks than you even necessarily have to, you know, sometimes the risk isn’t as great. If you just wait a little bit and slow down [00:48:00] just a little bit and you know, I’m all in when I’m in, I’m all in and you know, that’s, again, that’s a, that’s a blessing and a curse, but I think I would tell the younger me slow down just a little bit, not take your foot off the gas.
[00:48:14] But you, don’t got to go one 20, you can go 85 and you know, it’d still be all right. So I think I would definitely just tell myself just to slow down a little bit, not to not do anything, not to change anything, stay on the trajectory, stay aggressive, but slow down.
[00:48:32] I love that of that. And we’re in this world of just urgency and, and sort of like trying to speed up things. And there’s a pace of intentionality that almost can’t be accelerated. Right. I mean, it’s like you have to stop and think about things and process them and have a couple of cycles where it’s like, Hmm. Yeah. I thought that yesterday, but…
[00:48:51] Sit with some things, you know, you gotta do that. Don’t take your first idea. Run through a wall with it. You know what I’m saying? Like process a [00:49:00] little bit, ask people come back, reflect, and that’s boring. You know, that it’s boring and there’s not as much emotion in that. You know what I mean? Like where you’re going, when you’re going one 20 on an idea of man, you feel like the world is yours and you own it.
[00:49:16] If you take some time to slow down, you’ll be able to drive further, you know, then necessarily fast. And the goal is to go far in this. And so, you know, I didn’t always say my mental health, you know, as serious as I do now, I didn’t always take my diet as serious as I do now. But you got to have all of those things to be successful in this game.
[00:49:37] I love that. So, James, we like to live a call to action for a foundation here, our audience, how can we be helpful to you or to plain sight?
[00:49:48] Absolutely. If you are someone who owns a workspace or runs an event, or know somebody that does tell them to go to plain sight.app, enlist their event with us today, or [00:50:00] list their workspace with us today, we would love to help their community make better.
[00:50:04] Download Plain Sight app for your individual user. That’s just curious about using the technology and making those connections and follow us on all our social media platforms. It’s just at plain sight app on everything.
[00:50:18] I love it. I love it. Although I have to end with asking the story of your own handle.
[00:50:22] I wrote the hustle. Tell me where that came from because I love it.
[00:50:26] I have a book called #TheHustle, so I literally did write the whole. When I was starting my first business back when the oil changed business, I used to tweet a lot and I would tweet these motivational things while I’m up working and throughout the day to, you know, encourage myself and motivate myself and motivate others.
[00:50:46] And people would tell me, man, I’m writing some of your tweets down. These are pretty good. I like these. And so I was like, all right, I’m going to put these stuff into a book. So I pulled my Twitter archive from over. And it was just a fun project. Yeah. I put all [00:51:00] of those motivational tweets into a book and I published it on Amazon.
[00:51:03] And so I, and I called it hashtag the hustle, which is just a bunch of series of motivational tweets and retweets for myself to give you inspiration to keep going. And so that’s where I wrote the hustle came from. I literally wrote a book called the.
[00:51:18] I’m going to go get that. I want, I want that motivation then.
[00:51:21] Uh, it’s still on Amazon, I assume?
[00:51:23] Still on Amazon. You got to do, it’s got to go to Amazon. Pick that thing up.
[00:51:27] Well, this has been so great, James. I really want to thank you. We appreciate you taking the time. Thanks so much.
[00:51:33] No, thank you for it for having me. I mean that thanks to everyone who’s listening for, for tuning in. I appreciate you all this.
[00:51:39] We’d like to thank our guests, James Chapman and our sponsor Founders Live.
[00:51:43] This podcast was produced by yours truly, Dan Kihanya with audio editing and production by we edit podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listento. That’s listen t-o. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn [00:52:00] @foundersunfound.
[00:52:01] Thanks so much for tuning in. I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.