Meet one of the youngest Black entrepreneurs in tech, who just raised a seed round topping $4 million that included Alexis Ohanian
Vernon Coleman. Courtesy Vernon Coleman
Realtime, an invite-only social networking app co-founded by two Gen Zers, announced a $ 4 million startup round in late December led by Alexis Ohanian's venture fund Seven Seven Six.
Users of the app create video chat rooms where they can talk and connect with one another, and host conferences and group meetings.
Vernon Coleman, 23, Co-Founder and CEO of Realtime, told Insider that the app aims to become the "authentic social class for Gen Z and young millennials," and plans to expand into the real world after the pandemic ends.
Other investors in the app include Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, former Tinder CPO Ravi Metha and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin. Coleman is now one of the 1% black founders who raised VC funds.
In an interview with Insider, Coleman talks about the company's plans to create a next-generation social service, how he bonded with key investors, and what the future holds for him as a black man in tech.
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Last year Vernon Coleman and his friend Kevin Robertson took a chance. In their fourth year at the University of California at Santa Cruz, they dropped out to work full-time on their social networking app Realtime.
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They wanted to redefine social networks for Gen Zers and young millennials. Realtime's initial premise revolved around people meeting in person, but the pandemic outbreak forced the duo to rethink everything.
"We said, 'Okay, let's rethink what social connectivity and community look like in the age of distant universities," Coleman, 23, now CEO of Realtime, told Business Insider. "Where the places where people happen to meet, Have disappeared."
They quickly adapted, turning Realtime into an invite-only video chat service that allows users to create chat rooms to talk to and hang out with. Participants can also hold conferences and group meetings.
The app won't officially launch until early next year, but big names are already betting heavily on it. In late December, the app announced a $ 4 million launch, led by venture fund Seven Seven Six led by investor Alexis Ohanian. Other investors include Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, former Tinder CPO Ravi Mehta and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin.
Coleman said he wanted real-time to be a "very egalitarian place", unlike most social networks, which "focus on this aspect of status and almost the worst parts of the human being, how we think and perceive each other".
(L) Kevin Robertson (CTO) and (R) Vernon (CEO). Courtesy of Realtime
Realtime dispenses with traditional functions for social networks such as likes and followers in order to concentrate exclusively on connecting and promoting social environments. It just finished its round of alpha testing and Coleman said Realtime had already put up a waiting list even though he refused to say how many people were on it.
"People are craving human connection more than ever and Vernon has found a unique way to accelerate today's evolving need for interaction," Ohanian said in a press release. "His innovative approach to building hyper-personal online communities through instant, real-time video chatting made Realtime a compelling company to invest in."
This is also a big deal for Coleman, who identifies as black. Only about 1% of VC funding goes to founders of black startups, which means 23-year-old Gen Zer just became the youngest addition to one of the most exclusive tech clubs.
Courtesy of Realtime
Real-time wants to become the social class for Gen Zers and young millennials
Traditional social clubs and even tech rooms weren't always known to be the most encompassing spaces, and earlier this year Coleman was part of a group of young people who pointed that out.
He had a position called "Head of Hype" in a place called ??? (Eye Mouth Eye), a social club that started as an inside joke online but quickly gained traction as the group began criticizing Silicon Valley and venture capitalists for promoting an environment of elitism.
??? It then raised over $ 200,000 for three charities that support people with color and the LGBTQ community. It started as a joke, Coleman told Business Insider, but quickly became a symbol of how young people are currently viewing the system of technical and social spaces.
"People either break the cycle or join the cycle," he said. "If you look at most of the social networks and communities, they were created by almost the same person."
Realtime logo Courtesy of Realtime
Only two people currently work with Realtime: Coleman, who is responsible for operations, fundraising, and product design, and his co-founder, Robertson, the chief technical officer, who works on development. Although the app hasn't officially launched, he and Coleman are already trying to figure out how to bring realtime into the real world once the pandemic has subsided.
Breakthrough in seed financing after more than a hectic year
This $ 4 million round of funding is big news for Coleman, who has spent the last year and a half looking after investors.
Entering Silicon Valley had always been a dream of his, said Coleman. When he was growing up, he moved a lot. Both parents were in the US Navy and he was born in Okinawa, Japan. They moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico shortly before settling in South Carolina when they were around 7 years old.
In high school, he practiced creating iOS and Android games and said he always wanted to find a way to combine technology and entrepreneurship. He watched videos about creating startups to examine how big names spoke in tech - and to memorize the names of the entrepreneurs and founders who made them big.
He did this to understand "how people think and how people see the world". This became useful to him when he started looking for investors. It helped that he could speak her language. "Every industry has its own kind of dictionary," he said.
"I remember Scott Heiferman talking about Meetup. I remember listening to Yancey [Strickler] confuse Kickstarter," he said. Today, both Heiferman and Strickler are real-time investors.
Vernon Coleman Courtesy Vernon Coleman
Sometimes, he said, he would ask his brother, who works in real estate, for money, to buy plane tickets, and pay for Uber trips so he could get to cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York for potential investors to meet .
"I would go to places and ask questions," Coleman said. "Even if the 'Yo, how do you do it? How do you do it in the game if you don't have the financial resources to do it?'"
He was able to meet other real-time investors through friends who knew people. However, some people would simply spot and approach Coleman at events or parties - take Nick Caldwell, Twitter's vice president of engineering, for example.
"I realized that there is another black guy in Santa Cruz who does tech," Coleman said. "Santa Cruz doesn't have many blacks."
Silicon Valley and Big Tech in general don't have many blacks - CNBC reported only 3% of Facebook's workforce were black this year. And while 9% of Apple's workforce is black, only 3% hold executive positions. At the beginning of 2019, around 6% of the Twitter workforce identified as black - 2% more than in 2014, the point of sale reported.
One day when Coleman was at a Facebook conference, it didn't take much for him to recognize Caldwell in the room. Coleman could picture Caldwell and they went out for coffee later. Today Caldwell is a real-time investor. He also introduced Alexis Ohanian.
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