My name is Hajj Flemings – I am Traveling to San Francisco for ‘Rebrand Detroit’ January 2016: Let’s Connect!

I will be visiting San Francisco  January 7-12, 2016 for my ‘Rebrand Detroit…Innovating Detroit Neighborhood’ #KnightCities project sponsored by the Knight Foundation. During my trip I will be attending a Design Thinking class at the  Stanford d.School as well as meeting with investors, VCs, influencers, and startups about partnership opportunities.

The objective of the ‘Rebrand Detroit’ project is to bring the innovation economy to Detroit Neighborhoods.  The project strategy is designed to help revitalize disconnected communities with a tech and brand enabled strategy that is a catalyst for neighborhoods to become innovation districts.

If you are interested in connecting about my project let’s talk!

Open Letter: Michigan Tech University’s Racial Threat (from a Black Alumni)

On November 13, 2015 Michigan Tech University (MTU) made national news with the University of Missouri, Marist and a series of universities for racial threats targeted toward  African American students on campus. As an African American Alumni of Michigan Technological University I felt the responsibility to respond. A 21-year-old Mechanical Engineering student named Matthew Allen Shultz from Norway posted in Yik Yak, ‘Gonna shoot all black people.’

For those who are unfamiliar with Michigan Tech let me paint a picture of the environment. MTU has an enrollment of about 7,000 students of which 82 students (1.1% of enrollment) are African American. Most African American students are from Southeastern Michigan (Detroit, Flint and Saginaw) and on a good day the school is a seven to nine hour drive when there is no snow. It is remotely located one hour from the tip of the Upper Peninsula so there are no short trips for their family to come to campus for a quick visit or in case of an emergency, so safety and peace of mind are critical.

I realize one student does not represent the sentiment of the majority of the campus, the school’s leadership or the local judicial system. The President of the University Glenn Mroz responded immediately, the African American students held a peaceful candle march and the student has been arraigned. However, the case is not closed. So, I urge all parties involved to continue working together to make Michigan Tech and the surrounding community a safe environment where all students, staff, faculty and local residents can function without the fear of threat regardless of their color. Make no mistake Michigan Tech’s ability to recruit and retain minority students (Black, African, Asian, etc.) hangs in the balance. The world is watching how this situation is handled.

In a Noisy World can Domain .ME stand out as a #PersonalBranding domain name?

With a population of over 7 Billion people on the planet and 4.55 Billion people worldwide using mobile phones the digital landscape is becoming increasingly cluttered with information.  Today we live in a global economy where the days of depending upon a 8.5” x 11” rectangle to secure your next gig, business opportunity or strategic partnership is a risky proposition. Every person is responsible for telling their story, whether they are an employee or entrepreneur, to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Owning your Identity

Since the inception of the internet, .COM has been the gold standard for digital identity for companies creating a digital presence online. With over 90 Million .COM domain names registered digital real estate has become very crowded, thus the explosion of various domain extensions. The launch of Domain .ME however represents a new opportunity for individuals, entrepreneurs, celebrities and personalities to own a domain name that is personally branded with their ‘Real Name.’  One of the key value propositions around Domain .ME domain has the ability to be a powerful storytelling platform for speakers, musicians, authors, startup founders, and media personalities that have to have a branded presence to drive people to.

Three Ways You Can Use a Domain .ME Account

1. Companies (Business Branding) Using Domain .ME

Businesses are securing Domain .ME URLs and creatively integrating mashing their business and domain names to make a more memorable brand. Here are a few examples.

About.me: http://about.me
Flavors.me: http://flavors.me
Kiip: http://kiip.me
Time Magazine: http://ti.me
Facebook: http://fb.me

2. People (Personal Branding) Using Domain .ME

Real people are using their real names with their domains as a power way to establish themselves as a thought leaders and leverage their name as a digital asset.

Charlie Webster: http://www.charliewebster.me
Danny Brown: http://dannybrown.me
Tucker Max: http://TuckerMax.me

3. Your About Page

You can forward people to the about or media page on your website, your LinkedIN profile or any bio page that provides background information about you. I am currently using my .ME account to link to my bio and I am in good company with Chris Brogan who has a huge following online and 298K followers on Twitter (@chrisbrogan).

Chris Brogan: http://cbrogan.me
Hajj Flemings: http://hajjflemings.me

As a digital thought leader continue to be innovative in your thinking to standout from the competition and translate your name into value. Establishing a digital footprint is one thing but maintaining and growing it is another. Think about how you can leverage a .ME account as a personal branding tool. If you have a Domain .ME account we would love to hear about it. Share yours in the comment section of this blog post or tweet it and include the following information so we can be sure to see it… hashtag: #MelsAboutYou and @DomainME Twitter handle.

Connect with Domain .ME
Website: http://domain.me
Twitter: @DomainME
Facebook: http://fb.me/DomainME

Disclaimer
“I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.”

Ray Rice, Poor Character and Economics: Why every sports team needs a Brand Strategist

Professional sports is a capitalist endeavor that is a bottom line business: the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB are multi-billion dollar monopolies that drive American culture.  We can’t watch enough of elite athletes performing as assassins or killers on the field or court.  We glorify the Floyd Mayweather’s, the Muhammad Ali’s, the Deion Sanders and the Kobe Bryant’s.  The personalities are bigger than the sports they play.  As a society we have enabled them to live by a different set of rules their entire lives because they can run faster, hit harder, make incredible plays and hit gaming winning shots.  Then we expect them to cage their personas, which have made them millions of dollars, off the field. I am in no way justifying domestic violence, child abuse or any form of illegal or unethical activity. I am just giving you the lay of the land.

The Spin Cycle: The Court of Public Opinion

In the U.S. 31% of women have experienced domestic abuse.  For years NFL players have gone unchecked about their off the field misconduct which in many cases has been sweep under the rug.  But in reality the NFL is a microcosm of what we see in society.  We are more aware of the domestic violence issues with athletes versus regular citizens because of their high profile lives.  Everything they do is magnified.

The rules have changed.   With 24/7 broadcast coverage and social media engagement, off the field issues are not just legal in nature, athletes are now being tried in the court of public opinion.  Today a player can make a statement or post a negative tweet and it will be difficult to undo the damage once it is posted even if it is deleted.  If you impact the bottom line of the team or the league, you become collateral damage if you are a second tier player.  Players who are the face of the league potentially have a longer shelf life.

The Ray Rice Case: The Cost of Poor Character

Women represent 45% of the NFL fan base so the Ray Rice domestic violence issue isn’t going away anytime soon.  The initial economic fallout: 7,000+ Ray Rice jerseys were returned, his Ravens playing contract, Nike footwear and EA Sports (Madden ‘15) deals were terminated.  In less than a week he lost $1.6M annually in endorsements and the remaining balance of a 5-year $35M contract with the Ravens.  This case proves there is a high price for poor character.

Even companies like Budweiser have threatened to cancel their $1.6B sponsorship with the NFL based upon the handling of the Adrian Peterson child abuse case.  This is interesting since there is a clear connection to the influence of alcohol and player misconduct off the field.

Managing Your Brand through Crisis

Every athlete at some point in their playing career will have to manage through a crisis. But who will be there to help them through it?  The athlete has spent the majority of their life focusing on being elite at their sport and typically outsourcing the responsibility to their childhood friends, their former AAU coaches or some tag along who is ill prepared for the crisis.

The brand value of an athlete consists of their athletic ability and a term I call “Invisible Capital”.  Invisible Capital is defined by intangibles such as trust, character, personality and likeability that can be monetized. It also enables athletes to make money above their athletic ability off the field and beyond their playing career.  Invisible capital is a very fragile asset and is often mismanaged by most athletes.  The reputation of an athlete can be damaged to the point of no return where winning the battle in the justice system is a mere formality. Remember Ray Rice isn’t fighting a legal battle but one of public opinion.

Conclusion

Who is responsible for managing the behavior of the professional athlete?  Is it the commissioner, the league, the team, the agent, the legal system or the athlete themselves? The same platform that empowers athletes to become global icons and amass millions of dollars is the same platform that could become their demise.  Ultimately, the athlete is responsible for managing their brand.

Disclaimer:  If a player wants to be an idiot and ruin his career there isn’t much you can do for him.   With the average value of an NFL team being $1.43B and the average NBA team being $634M (this value was prior to the Clippers selling for $2B) every professional sports team can’t afford to be without a Brand Strategist.   A good Brand Strategist should proactively educate the players and prepare the organization in the areas of digital strategy, character development, reputation and crisis management before an incident happens.  The bottom line in business is character related issues represent billions of dollars in lost revenue and opportunity.  Poor character cost, but a good Brand Strategist is priceless.

The Best #ALS #IceBucketChallenge Video Ever: Hajj Flemings + Voss Water

On Wednesday, August 21st I posted my ice bucket challenge video to build awareness of Lou Gehrig  disease and how you can support the ALS Association to help change lives.  I used Voss Water to upgrade my video, I hope you found it interesting but more importantly that it moved you to action to make a donation.

I challenged the following people…

  • Soledad O’Brien – TV Personality
  • Rhonda Walker – WDIV 4 News Anchor
  • Mayor Mike Duggan – Mayor of Detroit
  • Jalen Rose – NBA Analyst/Former NBA Star
  • Dan Gilbert – Cleveland Cavs Owner
  • Erin Nicole – WXYZ Channel 7 – Entertainment Reporter
  • Jomar Brooks – Director of Design for Chrysler
  • Dave Smith – State Farm Agency Owner/Founder of Playall Sports
  • Pastor Joel E. Gregory – Pastor of LinkedUP Church

How to Share on Twitter

Post a tweet and include the following hashtags: #IceBucketChallenge #ALS.

To Make a Donation

You can make a donation on the ALS website by following this link http://bit.ly/1q0sZkR.

For more information about the ALS Association

Website: http://alsa.org

Twitter: @alsassociation

Net Neutrality: Why Michigan Startups Need to Join the Fight for an Open Internet

The Internet has leveled the playing field and enabled entrepreneurs and startups to create a world that empowers ideas with global impact.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently released a ‘Net Neutrality’ proposal, aka authorized web-content discrimination.  In short, it would paralyze the growth of small businesses and enable big brands and deep pocketed companies to have an unfair advantage online.  Every politician in Washington knows that small business fuels 100% of the net job growth in the U.S. economy.  The fates of Michigan, and American, businesses are on the line.  It is critical for us to work with our colleagues in Congress to ensure an open Internet for every business and consumer.

Representative Gary Peters Supports Net Neutrality

Last week, Michigan Rep. Gary Peters (D-Detroit) made a strong statement in favor of robust net neutrality rules that would not only guarantee we keep open an Internet free for innovation, but also protect Michigan and American small businesses as they build new technologies online. The move comes towards the end of the first open comment period with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to whom Peters addressed his comments on the issue, in which Chairman Tom Wheeler has been evaluating options for such rules. In the letter, Rep. Peters explicitly calls on Chairman Wheeler to consider all jurisdictional bases when making his decision, including authority granted him under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which empowers him to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. Groups from across the country have praised such a plan, and Peters joins Internet entrepreneurs, large and small businesses, and prominent technologists and investors in making his statement.

Michigan Startups We Need to Join the Fight

Silicon Valley and New York startup ecosystems have been vocal in the fight for an Open Internet, the list of companies include:  Etsy, General Assembly, Code Academy, Y Combinator, Union Square Ventures and Kickstarter to name a few. I believe it is more critical for the growth of the Michigan’s startup community than any other market to have an ‘Open Internet’.

Call to Action

I am developing a list of Michigan Startups that support Net Neutrality that will be shared with our local congress.  Please inbox me at speak[at]hajjflemings[dot]com if you are interested in supporting.   I urge that we add our voice to the conversation and join the fight.

Open Disclosure

I am working with Engine a Silicon Valley based organization that supports the growth of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy on local and national issues.

Articles on the Engine Site:

http://engine.is/issues/net-neutrality-comments-crash-fcc-website-keep-the-pressure-on/4296

http://engine.is/issues/senator-markey-fcc-already-has-power-to-save-the-internet/4190

http://engine.is/issues/yes-the-fcc-has-acted-to-protect-net-neutrality/3860

http://engine.is/issues/new-fcc-proposal-on-net-neutrality-is-disastrous-for-startups-consumers-and-the-economy/3781

Articles on Net Neutrality:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/07/15/the-fcc-is-so-swamped-with-net-neutrality-comments-its-extending-the-deadline/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/07/17/fcc-over-1-million-comments-have-now-been-filed-on-net-neutrality/

http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2014/07/detroit-area_congressman_speak.html

http://www.freep.com/article/20140504/COL43/305040057/net-neutrality-FCC-internet-web-rules-cable-providers-netflix-ISPs

 

Open Letter: Diversity & Startups in Detroit. Can they co-exist?

Open disclosure:  I am African American.

My open letter is in response to Amy Haimerl’s article, ‘Diversity left out of startup revolution in Detroit’ posted in Crain’s Detroit on June 24th.  Her article, which referenced the ‘Rise of the Rest’ tour led by AOL Founder, Steve Case, was eye opening to some and voice of confirmation for others. The tour features a startup pitch competition with a $100,000 prize for the best startup pitch in each city (Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Pittsburgh).  I was glad to see this event kick off in Detroit. There was great media coverage, political involvement, and social media engagement which are all positives for the city, state and local entrepreneurial and tech communities.  My congratulations goes out to the Detroit based startup Stik for winning the $100,000 prize.

Like most local tech events it was light on women and racial diversity.  The current class of startups, founders, and developers in Detroit is disproportional in terms of race and gender which is similar to other mature startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, Boulder and Austin to name a few.  So this problem isn’t unique to Detroit, but it does present a unique opportunity for us to be the face of an inclusive startup economy. This would require harnessing the human capital of a larger portion of the rich diverse talent that exists in Detroit. Granted, this is easier said than done, but this issue presents a great opportunity for Detroit to become a pioneer in diversity.

Percentage of African American’s Per City on the Rise of the Rest tour:

Here are the percentages of African Americans per city in the Rise of the Rest tour: Pittsburgh 26%, Nashville 28.4%, Cincinnati 44.8%, and Detroit 82.7%. According to the city census, Detroit is an African American city.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, the harsh reality is that Detroit will never get a pass on the subject of diversity and startups as long as the huge gap continues to exist between the city and startup demographics. Period.

Is there Value in Diversity?

Diverse communities bring different experiences, different thought processes, competitive advantages and innovative solutions to the table.  There has been an explosion of activity around growing the presence of women and girls in the entrepreneurial and startup space.   For example, Google just invested $50M in ‘Made with Code’ a program to excite girls about computer science.

Who is Responsible for Diversity?

There are universal challenges that impact success such education, professional networks, financial resources, and other socio-economic issues. In general, there tends to be a lack of access and exposure, technical founders, developers, and experienced entrepreneurs whose knowledge is often needed to build sustainable startups.

Let me speak of behalf of the African American community.

The reality is if you are smart and African American your family expects you to get a good paying job with benefits working for someone else. You might ask the question, “What about family and friends investing $10K in your startup?”  Generally speaking, we didn’t grow up in environments where we pooled resources together to launch ideas or build businesses. In fact, most of us came from families where resources were limited and extra money to invest in ideas/dreams was not available. I am not here to make excuses but historically in the African American community entrepreneurship wasn’t viewed as a pathway to success.

Detroit is a City of Firsts

Detroit was the blueprint of the modern industrial economy. We built the middle class, we built the first highway, we were the first to pay middle class workers $5/hr, we created electro music, we created the light bulb, we perfected the mass manufacturing production line, we even won the first football championship (Pre-NFL). I could go on and on about Detroit’s firsts. We have some amazing work being done by Dan Gilbert, Detroit Venture Partners (DVP)GoogleMichigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Techtown and New Economy Initiative (NEI) to name a few.  These organizations are helping to build a startup community that is driving change in the local and national narratives about Detroit. But the reality is….. it isn’t enough. There needs to be more people of color and women at the table helping to drive change, not just in the room hoping to get a seat.

So I take as much responsibility as others who don’t look like me for the discouraging lack of diversity in the startup space in Detroit.  However, Detroit it is time for change! Together let’s get it done.

 

 

Here is the Unofficial List of Women Led Startups in Michigan

Are there any women led startups in Michigan?

I started a social experiment to answer this question by posting a tweet on May 23rd during Tech Week Detroit 2014 when I was on the Entrepreneurship panel.  The tweet is a link to a Google Form I created on May 23rd during Tech Week Detroit when I was on the entrepreneurship panel.

The purpose of this project was two-fold

(1) generate a list of women led startups that will live online somewhere

(2) spark a conversation around inclusion and startups in Michigan

This is a self-generated list that is being populated by the community as of today we have 10-startups. If you know of any other please add them to the Google Form, the list is only as good as the information that the community provides.

First Name

Last Name

Company Name

Company Website

Twitter Handle

Sarah

Brithinee

Wedit

http://wedit.com

@weditvideo

Amanda

Lewan

Michipreneur

http://michipreneur.com

@michipreneur

Catherine

Juon

Beyond Startup

http://beyond-startup.com

@cjuon

Christina

Otto

Xebax Michigan Network

http://xebax.com

@christi36872152

Julia

Winter

OChemPrep

http://ochemprep.com

@ochemprep

Natalia

Petraszczuk

Vision Boards

http://visionboard.co

@vision_boards

Nailah

Ellis-Brown

Ellis Infinity LLC

http://ellisislandtea.com

@ellisislandtea

Julia

Owens

Atterocor

http://atterocor.com

@juliacowens

Rachel

Schostak

Styleshack

http://styleshack.com

@styleshack

Kathleen

Norton-Schock

ardentCause L3C

http://ardentCause.com

@katensch

Add a women led startup to the List: http://bit.ly/1jKGun2

Thanks for your support.

The Economics of Race: Donald Sterling and the NBA a Brand in Crisis

The most exclusive club in America is not a country club or a political party but being a majority team owner in American sports.  This privilege is reserved for a select few, the entry point has nothing to do with college degrees, GPA or how smart an individual is.  Majority sport team owners are extremely wealthy, in the NBA 14 of the 30 of team owners are Billionaires and the remaining 16 have a net worth north of $200 Million.  As a talking point there are a sufficient number of African Americans that fit this category but their net worth alone won’t get them on this short list.

On Saturday morning (04/26) I opened my email inbox at about 7:00am to find out Donald Sterling owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was reportedly caught on tape making racist remarks to Girlfriend which was first reported on TMZ.com on April 25, 2014.  I was very disturbed as a human being more so than as an African American to hear the ignorant statements that he made.   Does it appear that Sterling was setup by V. Stiviano his girlfriend and recorded without his knowledge?  Do most people say things in the privacy of their home that they wouldn’t say in public?  The answer is yes to both questions and under California law V. Siviano probably illegally recorded their conversations.  But in the words of Drake, “…now we’re here…”, the statements Donald Sterling made are now public record and the NBA has no choice but to deal with it.

Race Impacts Everything

Race impacts almost every decision that we make everyday and I am sure that are many people will totally disagree with this point.  Think about where you live, what schools your children attend, who you married, your friends/network, employment, mortgage rates, automobile insurance rates, and deal flow to name a few.  Having said that, sports is the purest example of the economics of race, so now lets dig into the NBA brand.

The NBA Brand

The NBA has been the poster child for diversity in American sports from the coaches on the sidelines, to the executive’s they hire and obviously to the players on the court.

  • 81% of NBA players are people of color

  • 3/4 of NBA players are African-American

  • 27% of NBA coaches are African-American

I have spent a considerable amount of time pouring myself into the subject matter of branding and I realize that at it’s very core that brands are more than colors, logos, and names.  Brands are stories, they are a collective of experiences and impressions that people make an emotional connection to, that drive economic outcomes in our purchasing decisions and the market value of the organizations that they are developed for.

The NBA Has Only One Solution

As a brand strategist if I were advising the NBA here is what I would recommend as the only course of action.  I am not a lawyer so I don’t know all the complexities of the NBA by-laws or the sanctions that the NBA can impose on Donald Sterling as an NBA owner, but here is what has to happen from an NBA brand management standpoint.

  1. Indefinite Suspension of Donald Sterling: There should be an indefinite suspension of Donald Sterling while the NBA is investigating the authenticity of the tape which should be concluded this week.  Basically Sterling needs to stay out of public view and not interact with the the team during the playoffs.  The Clippers organization has already made a statement about the audio without admitting that Donald Sterling is the other voice which no lawyer worth her salt is going to do.

  1. Donald Sterling has to sell the team to Magic Johnson:  Magic and the Guggenheim Partners investment group that own the Dodgers recently purchased the WNBA Los Angeles Spark and are the perfect partners to purchase the team.  It is a great story:  Magic along with Bird saved the NBA in the 80’s.  Magic is in phase II of his career is a highly successful businessman in LA that could save the NBA again during this brand crisis.  He is also a 5-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and is at the heart of the crisis with the instagram photo that was posted.

  1. Provide Donald Sterling with a way out (Mianzi): In the Chinese business culture there is a principle called Mianzi which centers around the idea of saving face.  In China they believe when a business person or company has a public failure that the option of giving them a way out should be provided.  Donald Sterling a billionaire with a network of $1.9B can’t give his way out of this situation regardless of how much he gives to the NAACP or any other organization.  The reality is, is that Donald Sterling could probably maintain ownership of the team but it would be a living a “H___”.  He wouldn’t be able to seat courtside and would no longer be able to hang out with the players in the locker room, no player on the team is going to want to be connected with him whatsoever.  This allows him to ride off into the sunset with his money.

  1. Crisis Management PR (Magic, Sterling and the NBA):  As part of the agreement Sterling can negotiate that Magic and the NBA work with him to salvage his reputation.  It would be the best alternative on the table.  It would be an incredible story that people could get behind and believe in.  It is also the only authentic story that can be developed out of this situation, there is no way to spin this story but you could have an amicable ending for all parties.

I know the NBA is going to move swiftly and decisively in their course of action.  The solution outlined is the best case scenario for all parties involved.  Let’s see what happens.