In his keynote for the Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation (GNEC) Annual Opportunities and Awards Breakfast on June 15, 2012, Anthony Frasier, cofounder of the successful gaming social media site Playd and BrickCity Tech Meetup founder, gave a moving, inspirational talk about his nontraditional entrepreneurial journey and the factor that ties it all together: Hustle.
At the breakfast, held at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Campus Center (Newark), Frasier pointed out that he doesn’t have the traditional background to be a tech entrepreneur.
He grew up in Newark, went to high school in Montclair and dropped out of Essex County College. To succeed, he needed to “hustle” in the positive sense of the word: to obtain by forceful act or persuasion, or to sell aggressively.
(Frasier added that his mother, in the room, was always worried about his hustling and that this was the first of his entrepreneurial events she had come to.)
He started out hustling in high school, Frasier said. The popular kids were all on a site called BlackPlanet.com. In those days, he said, you could write some HTML and make the site do cool things. He did that, and all the popular kids wanted their pages to have “those crazy things” on it, too. “So I gave it to them, for a price,” he added.
At that time, he recalled, “I didn’t spend my money on clothes. All I wanted to do was play video games. Every day I’d come home and play video games. Maybe I played them a little too much, because I was failing in school.”
With poor high school grades, the only college Frasier could get into was Essex County College, but college held no interest for him and he dropped out. After going through a “dark period,” he decided to “attend the school of Google and Amazon.com.”
From Google he learned a bit more about coding, and from Amazon.com he ordered books that taught him about the other things he wanted to know.
“My next hustle was TheKoalition.com,” he said, started with a group of friends. “All I was doing was playing video games. I knew so much about games. So I thought, Why not just make a site talking about games? We were going to sites like IGN.com, the number one game site in the industry, but they never talked about games from an urban or African-American perspective.”
TheKoaltion.com took off, he recalled. “We traveled the nation, developers were inviting us out to their studios; 50 Cent invited us to do a promotion with him. We did some things with Electronic Arts. We did some things with Rockstar Games for Grand Theft Auto. We hosted community game nights for Microsoft Xbox 360.”
Despite the success, Frasier recalled, he wasn’t making any money and decided to take a night job at Kmart. He was working there while trying to make The Koaliton pay when he realized he had to jump into entrepreneurship with both feet.
“That’s where I ran into the GNEC. They taught me how to manage my business.” He said a professor later asked him if anything had stuck from his GNEC course. He answered that in the tech world there really isn’t a need for a formal business plan or feasibility study to get money; sometimes you can get it from just an idea and a prototype.
One thing the professor said did stick with Frasier: “You aren’t going to make money until you start losing some.”
“I then started having all these failures, Frasier continued. “I created a video game, a video game search engine, a Twitter client. I failed a lot of times, learned from those failures and got better. And I learned a lot about product development along the way.”
Frasier also knew he had to get some real-world tech experience but, he noted, who would hire him, a minority college dropout? He discovered the Montclair company Bubbalon, a sentiment-sharing website, and applied for an internship. “I knew I had to work for free to build up my resume,” he said. He sold Bubbalon on himself by telling them that he was able to get 100,000 users previously for The Koalition. Frasier went to work at Bubbalon. “I got them 80 percent of their gaming user base, but it wasn’t enough to save the company,” he said sadly.
Frasier said his next hustle was a tech startup. The angel investor in Bubbalon was sold on Frasier, who pitched him the concept of Playd with a 20-page functional spec of the app. “Most investors invest in people,” he pointed out. The investor said, “I trust you” and let Frasier try to create his vision with a Bubbalon cofounder.
One day, Frasier recalled, while on Twitter he came across a tweet about a minority-based accelerator taking applications in San Francisco. On an impulse he applied and shortly thereafter was accepted to the NewME Accelerator class of 2011. The only caveat: he had to be followed around by CNN for the documentary “Black in America: The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley.” He agreed and took part in the intensive program, which he described as an excellent mentoring opportunity.
How is Playd doing? It’s been featured on TechCrunch, The Guardian and PC Magazine, Frasier said. “Today there are about 20,000 gamers showing on the platform. They check in and share the games they are playing on Twitter and Facebook. We even have some people talking about taking it off our hands,” he noted, although he isn’t yet making any announcements.
Frasier said he keeps hustling. He is working on a nonemergency 311 app for cities, “and if they don’t have a 311 center we can create one for them.” He is giving back to the Newark community as founder of BrickCity Tech Meetup, trying to gather tech community members. As part of that group, he is bringing tech education to Newark, sponsoring courses on how to build your own apps, for example. And he is working on a book about bridging the gap between hip-hop and entrepreneurship.