Transparent Collective Team Spotlight: Meet James Norman
We’re excited to introduce you to James Norman, Transparent Collective’s Partner and Co-Founder. Based in Oakland, California, James is also the Co-Founder of Pilotly, the first market research platform built for creative content, and a General Partner at Black Operator Ventures (Black Ops), the first seed stage fund for and by Black founders.
Why Did You Start Transparent Collective?
After building my first tech startup in the video space, I began my next media company GroupFlix, an a la carte TV service. I spent eight months signing contracts with entertainment studios, as well as setting up a fully functional SVOD platform with an amazing team, but after numerous pitches was unable to raise capital.
So, I went to my friend Adrian Walker. We attended the University of Michigan School of Engineering together and at the time, he was pursuing his own startup in Silicon Valley, facing the same challenges.
I thought to myself, we have to do something, and it has to get people like us money in their hands. As a result, we started Transparent Collective in 2016.
The idea for TC today stemmed from the conversations about a “pipeline problem.” We knew it wasn’t true and after a conversation with Charles Hudson, Founder of Precursor Ventures, we knew the best way to achieve our goal was to put the most talented women and people of color in a room with investors interested in their sectors. We also wanted founders in our program to be transparent with each other, to help each other grow, and get access to what they need to grow their companies.
How Did You Grow The Transparent Collective program?
I joined forces with Rohini Pandhi, a colleague of mine who has always had a passion for helping unserved communities. If you combine that mind set with tech,Transparent Collective would be a perfect fit. Together, we started to build the program to help founders that looked like us.
After two 24-hour batch programs, we knew that we needed more time. We needed more time for founders to get exposed to the culture of TC and build lasting relationships with each other. We felt like one week would get everyone where they needed to be, which is where Lara Jordan came in to help us run and scale our programs from 24 hours to one week. She helped us to grow our events and start building a structure around our team.
Why is Transparent Collective’s Mission Important to You?
I believe that talented people should have access to the resources they need to see their vision through. As someone who did not have this access, I know what it’s like to achieve a vision with limited capital.
Transparent Collective is normalizing the success of founders that don’t look like the archetype of a Silicon Valley founder by providing those resources. We are bringing people to the market that have solutions for global technology, but their solutions haven’t been put in place because they don’t fit the standard.
What Have You Enjoyed Most About Being a Part of Transparent Collective?
Seeing the success of our founders and their companies. Seeing them with a couple of million dollars to build their businesses and how their lives change at that point… It’s inspiring to see people who work so hard to get what they deserve.
I’ve also really enjoyed seeing the growth of our programming. At first, we were focused on supporting founders with their pitch decks and pitching to investors, then matching them with investors. But, as we learn more about how the market is evolving, we’re able to evolve the program and deliver even stronger resources and support.
What is the Greatest Lesson You Have Learned from Transparent Collective?
If the story is compelling enough, anything is possible. Of course, the pitch deck is important. There’s specific information you have to cover, but the power of story goes well beyond those traditional metrics. When you have real powerful substance and a good story, there’s a greater outcome.
What Do You Think is Transparent Collective’s Greatest Challenge?
Accessing the resources we need to continue scaling our program. We need to bring on more partners that see our success and want to be a part of our story. That way, we can continue providing greater value to our founders during and after the program.
What are Your Goals for Transparent Collective?
Right now, my goal is to find additional partners that can support our growth, so we can continue building our programs to help more founders.
Looking forward, I want to expand our pipeline of founders that fit the rubric to be in the program. If we could build auxiliary programming to help younger companies get tuned up, we can get them where they need to be to participate.
Can You Tell us More About Black Ops and What the Vision is?
I recently started Black Ops, a seed fund managed for Black founders by Black founders. The vision of Black Ops is that we democratize access to capital for the most outstanding Black founders.
Because I’m a Black founder, the performance of Black founders in TC has been uniquely strong. The batches have naturally gravitated that way as a result of my involvement. After seeing more success in these folks, I wanted to create a fund for this group to access the people and the market they needed to grow.
Typically, Black founders don’t have a lead investor. By creating a fund like Black Ops, we’re positioning these founders to see themselves and their businesses in a different trajectory.
We have yet to see a Black founder exit a company over a billion dollars, so we’re on a mission to produce the most multi-billion dollar value companies founded by Black people.
What Advice Would You Impart to Founders Today?
Tell a story about the future. People are investing in the future. It’s not about what you’re doing today, but what are you going to do tomorrow? Be confident in that story while taking feedback. Hear the feedback and act on it within the context of your business.
And make sure that you’re talking about something that could exceed that billion-dollar value because that’s what venture capital is aiming for.
What is Something Most People Don’t Know About You?
I’m a credited music producer. I also built cars for Fast and Furious.
How Do You Think Your Life Outside of TC Aligns with TC’s Mission?
Because I’m a founder myself, everything I do and learn helps me better support TC. I’m constantly meeting new people that I can bring into the network and building goodwill with people I can cash in later for someone else. I store my network to open up more resources.
More About James
James Norman is a serial entrepreneur who at age 16 built his first online company. His current venture, Pilotly, is the first market research platform built for creative content, servicing Amazon, NBCUniversal, Netflix and others. Outside of media, he’s passionate about social equity, which led him to co-found Black Operator Ventures, the first seed fund for and by Black founders.
James earned his BSE in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan. He’s a founding partner at Transparent Collective, the non-profit that accelerated the most Black tech founders to funding, and a Board Advisor at Zoo Labs music accelerator.
Read more about James’ new venture fund here.
Keep up with him on LinkedIn here.