Make It Work: entrepreneur Scooter Taylor on inspiring future innovators
The Atlanta member discusses how he cofounded QuarantineCon, a series of digital conferences and events designed to inspire innovation, support career growth and build new networks for Black creative thinkers
By Corinna Burford Illustration by Elena Xausa Tuesday 23 June, 2020 Short read
Stuck at his family’s home, Taylor found himself with more time on his hands. Inspired by an online conference that he and close friend Tre’von Hill attended, the pair launched QuarantineCon as an all-day event that featured talks from innovators across a diverse range of sectors. Since then, they’ve continued to host regular online events, including virtual gym classes, a culinary showcase, a job fair and a pitch competition. Nine weeks in, they show no signs of slowing down.
Life in ‘the before’
‘In 2016, I helped launch a startup company that was at the intersection of fashion and technology called Looklive, which helps influencers to build community and monetise effectively. I spent the past four years learning about how to build tech products and a user base at the crossover between people, social media, marketing and technology. I was CEO of the company for that time. But in mid-January of this year, I transitioned out of the position to find the next thing. It was pretty scary leaving the startup that I’d been working on for four years. I spent most of January and February consulting for different media companies out of LA. Then, I came home to Memphis for my mom’s birthday dinner on 13 March. After lockdown, I got stuck.’
The big idea
‘On Tuesday 17 March, Tre’von Hill, who is one of my buddies from college at Morehouse, invited me to a digital conference. I was excited to go. It was one of those things where I was like, “Let’s see how it actually works”. I was blown away by the technology. I instantly saw an opportunity, so I texted him. We knew so many dope creatives across the country who now had all this extra time on their hands. So, we thought let’s actually use it.
‘We stayed up all night Wednesday to build this conference out. By Friday, we announced it to the world, and on Sunday we held it. We were only expecting around 500 people, but 4,498 showed up. It was a four-day sprint, but all of the muscles I’d been honing over the past few years were activated. I was tapping into the same things I learned about how to build products for influencers and transferring that energy to this new thing. Waking up the next morning with this list of 4,000 people who just actively came to something was really exciting. So, we decided to keep going.’
Taking the leap
‘The first event we did after the conference was around finances. We brought in wealth managers to talk about what people should be doing and how they should be thinking about investing. We thought that was important given the times. After that, we started hosting virtual gyms, where people can sign up for classes, and fitness instructors can connect with new clients and monetise.
‘In the midst of COVID-19, there’s been a lot of talk about government loans, but many creatives are often left out of those programmes. So, we launched a fund for creatives with the photographer Cam Kirk out of Atlanta. We also threw a careers fair, where we worked with Morgan Stanley, NBCUniversal, Livongo, JP Morgan, and all these different companies, to provide advice and offers. Not just internships, but real, full-time roles. Then, in May, we kicked off Mental Health Awareness month with a day of programming with therapists and clinical psychologists, which was really moving.
‘The pitch competition was like the cherry on top. Again, this community is so talented, and they are disproportionately driving the numbers on social-media platforms, from TikTok to Twitter. So, imagine if they were awarded the resources to build something? The competition featured a range of talented entrepreneurs of colour who had pivoted during COVID-19, and we ended up giving out almost $60,000 in non-dilutive capital.’
‘One of the first reactions that we were getting was people saying thank you. I think they felt alone. They felt nervous and lost, especially in the early days of quarantine. What we did was provide a space to understand that those feelings are OK and that we can get through this together. Even though we started with people from within our networks, we ended up with attendees from places like Qatar and London. For the pitch competition, too, we had people applying from all over the world.
‘Our events have inspired the community to plan, and it has been a catalyst for more people to create their own things. We’ve seen them throw their own events and try to drive connection, which we’re super excited about. We believe that the abundance just grows as more creatives add to the pot.’
Life in ‘the after’
‘We see a future where the community continues to blossom. Over the past nine weeks, we’ve grown our network to almost 10,000 people, which is kind of unreal. So, number one, we want to continue to serve those in the community, give them a platform and make it a place where they can come together. We’re also looking towards higher education: how do we help folks who are looking at getting Masters degrees and MBAs. And then, of course, with the civil unrest right now, what’s our role in civic engagement? What’s our role in this next coming election, and how do we help provide a voice and a platform for people who are doing the real work? If you think about a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, I’m not sure what the world will look like. But I think this community is going to be responsible for writing a page in the chapter of what it will look like.’