“A courageous tech leader with a revolutionary vision”
Fabian Elliott is a ‘Hybrid Entrepreneur’ as Founder & CEO of Black Tech Mecca Inc. and an Advertising Technology Consultant at Google. In his ad-tech consulting capacity, he has worked with top tier clients like Target, Ford, Kimberly Clark, and others to develop and execute strategies for their most sophisticated online campaigns.
After completing his term as inaugurally appointed Global Co-Chair of the Black Googler Network, he transferred what he was able to create within a company to the city he has come to love, by leading the charge to transform Chicago into the ‘Global Black Tech Mecca’ through his organization, Black Tech Mecca. Their mission is to build a thriving black tech ecosystem in Chicago by strengthening connections, quantifying impact, and directing growth for individuals, community organizations, and companies.
Since their launch in June, Black Tech Mecca has already made waves in the city and garnered national press in Ebony, Black Enterprise, Rolling Out and others. Outside of the tech world, Fabian is past Secretary of the 100 Black Men of Chicago Inc., Next Generation Board Member for American Civil Liberty Union of Illinois, and a New Leadership Council Chicago Fellow.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your life so far and you probably would say that you come from humble beginnings. Talk about your Childhood & What growing up wAS like for you.
Fabian: It’s interesting being so immersed in my day-to-day in the tech space and living in a large metropolitan city because it’s so different than from my origins, as far as growing up on a dirt road in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s a world that growing up, I didn’t know existed. That question just makes me reflect on how where you start doesn’t determine where you can be or where you end up. I just think about the differences of not only growing up in rural space, but not even having an interest in tech.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Fabian: If you asked me when I was a seven or eight-year-old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably would have told you a NFL running back.
Let’s talk about your Tech career.
Fabian: There was a long road from seven-to-eight years old to fascination [with technology] coming into play. When I reflect on it, even as I was nearing graduation from high school, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do; and I ended up landing on marketing or business, just from process of elimination. I thought about the classes that I liked and didn’t like and the career path they were associated with. For example, I couldn’t wrap my head around chemistry for some reason, so maybe being a doctor isn’t for me. I just did that for different classes. I ended up going into marketing and business in school. Where tech came into play is through that intersection. Internet marketing, advertising technology, digital advertising- that’s where I realized something I’m already passionate about and enjoy intersects with tech. One of the things I’ve always tried to advocate for is that we shouldn’t force technology onto people, but we should find a way to connect it to something you’re already passionate about.
So alongside your role with BTM, you work in global diversity with Google. How did that opportunity come about and when did you realize you wanted to work in this industry?
Fabian: The foot in the door was actually an extension from the previous summer. One of the keys that helped me secure the internship with Target was linking up with the program director of INROADS, a nonprofit organization that helps talented minorities get Fortune 500 internships. It was my INROADS coach who pushed me to apply for Google because at the time, I had applied to Procter & Gamble but didn’t get a call back. She was the one who presented the Google opportunity and just being realistic I was like, ‘I don’t know maybe I should just go back to Target. Procter & Gamble didn’t give me a call back, so what are my chances with Google?’ She encouraged me to submit an application, she worked with me on my essay, and once I had an interview, it was a wrap.
What issues are minorities facing in Silicon Valley?
Fabian: A lot of these big tech companies are founded out of Silicon Valley or places like Palo Alto. If you look at the demographics of these places, in Palo Alto for example, the Black population is low (1.8 percent in Palo Alto). The biggest companies are being founded in these spaces, and the founders are going to be a certain color or background. Most employees that can get into these companies are through referrals. The DNA of the company is doomed to not be very diverse from the very beginning.
What are your organizations doing to solve the problem?
Fabian: After I graduated from college, moved to a new city and was working at a new company, I showed up in the Google office of over 600 people and there was not one Black male manager. At the time, we didn’t have a Black employee group chapter, even though there were chapters in other offices. Some of the key support systems that should have been in place, weren’t in place. I was fortunate enough that I had a great team and manager that were able to help me be successful but I looked around and realized other brothers and sisters weren’t able to have that same experience. When I saw that the odds are stacked against you when you don’t have the support in place, I got passionate about how every Black person in the company globally could get this type of support. I ended up going on this crusade where I cold-called Black Googlers on four different continents, had meetings with them to ask if they were getting the support they needed, and made a case for us to expand globally. When I took it to leadership at the time, it was a no-brainer that they thought it was a good idea but who was going to do it? I ended up spearheading our global expansion, setting up our global leadership team, and serving as the inaugural co-chair. We were able to expand and launch chapters across four different continents. This was in 2014 and I found myself responsible for all the Black Googlers at the company while working my normal job. We solved an issue within the company, but through those experiences, I came to the mind-boggling realization that the problem was solved within Google, but there was still a universal issue.
What has been some of the biggest challenges Black Tech Mecca has faced?
Fabian: What we realized is the biggest challenge that was keeping us, not only from creating a global Black tech mecca, but creating healthy Black tech communities anywhere, was that there was a huge data insight void. In Chicago, no matter where you go, no one can tell you how big the Black tech community is or what do they do. No one can tell you about different diversity initiatives. No one had done the research. That’s where we found our niche stepping in to provide those data. Our main initiative we have now is “State of the Black Tech Ecosystem” research study that we’re actually releasing next month. We’re really excited about this study because we are introducing the framework in evaluating the health of the Black tech community in any given city. From there, you will be able to know where you stand and have growth strategies in order to develop from where you’re at. We will be comparing Chicago to a few other key markets.
In your opinion, What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur?
Fabian: The concept of being able to take an idea and bring it to reality is one of the most fascinating things about it. Having the control over that process and the influence on that potential impact that you can make is something that I really enjoy. I’ve always been entrepreneurial from a young age.
Leaders are readers. What is one book that you’ve read that has changed your life as an entrepreneur?
Fabian: One book that has been very focused on ecosystem developed is one book called The Rainforest [written by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt] two venture capitalists and investors from Silicon Valley that have produced this framework and blueprint on how to create your own Silicon Valley in whatever city you’re in. That was an awesome book to see how other people have thought about it and then being able to tweak it for the Black community.
One of the Taglines for ShineHard is “Passion Changes Everything” because we realize that passion is the first step to finding your purpose. You’ve created a movement but what would you say is your passion and when did you know?
Fabian: For me, going through life, I was always looking for something to throw myself into like, “What’s that cause that really makes me come alive?” I think that everyone who has found theirs can relate- it’s a gradual process and when you hit it, you look back and you realize how everything fit together. For me, it came through searching for my identity, my blackness, and diving into better understand why things around us are they way they are. Things really turned when I read Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. He answered all my questions. He painted the perfect picture of why things were the way they were. Once I read that, I had an insatiable appetite for Black History. What made me come alive is that I became outraged about the state of the global black community. I became outraged that 18 of the 20 poorest countries in the world are in Africa. I became outraged that Haiti is the poorest country in the western Hemisphere and that wherever we are a majority in the country are someone of the poorest countries, and wherever we are the minority in the country, we are normally disproportionately in a lower socioeconomic class. I started looking for ways to create a stronger global Black community within Google. It’s been a driving passion for Black Tech Mecca.
What is your greatest fear?
Fabian: You want to do so much and have this big impact but where do you start and how do you consistently go about it the right way? I’d also add fear of what other people will think. Honestly doing all these things, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Once you’re in it, you’re in it!
I imagine everyone walking this earth had a dream or vision. What separates those who have turned dreams into a reality vs. those who haven’t?
Fabian: A lot of people start and quit, but a majority of people don’t even start. Someone who has started is someone who has to not only committted to not quitting, but has committed to their own growth.One of the things I’ve realized is that Black Tech Mecca or anything I’m looking to do is only going to grow as much as I grow as a person, so I prioritize my own personal growth because that is what I know is hinging on the success of everything else.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to shine in the tech industry? What steps should they take? What’s the mindset?
Fabian: I don’t want to oversimplify it, but in order to shine, it all comes back to identity and knowing who you are, what your strengths are,what your weaknesses are, and if you can just find a way to capitalize on your strengths and bring them to the forefront and protect your weaknesses from ruining everything, you’ll be okay. That’s what has been helpful for me. It’s as simple as, ‘What do you get excited about? What do you do that energizes you?’ Find a way to do that as much as possible versus things that frustrate you.
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