We have the pleasure of sitting down with Gumbo Media co-founder and creative director Matthew Manning to discuss his personal entrepreneurial journey and to learn what his startup is all about.
Learn about Gumbo here: https://gumbomedia.com/
Connect with us: https://linktr.ee/livingcorporate
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and yes, you’re listening to a B-Side. Now, every episode is someone’s first episode, so for our new folks, B-Sides are essentially random shows we have in-between our larger shows. These are much less structured and somehow even more lit than our regularly scheduled shows. Today, we have a special guest – Matthew Manning. Matthew is the co-founder and creative director of Gumbo Media, a trans-media storytelling platform of curated content and experiences to expand the narrative of black life through various programs, services, and content platforms. Gumbo is amplifying new nuance and more humanity into our stories, creating pipelines that encourage us to speak for ourselves. Today, Gumbo is a coalition of over 60 artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and allies committed to a collective vision of inclusive representation. Matthew, welcome to the show, man.
Matthew: Hey, thank you, man. I really appreciate it.
Zach: Hey, man, I appreciate you being here, man. Now, look, today we’re talking about starting a startup. Talk to us a little bit about your history and how Gumbo started.
Matthew: Yeah. I think there are a few ways to tell this story, but to keep it simple, Gumbo, which was formally Royal Media, really emerged from a gap. It was a gap that my co-founder and I, Courtney Phillips, felt–to be honest on a personal level, but it translated into some of the professional. Representation was lacking, even in our jobs, in our classes. You know, anywhere we went that was professional or academic, educational, just social, it felt like we were often wearing a mask, or perhaps more aptly like we were living half of ourselves. And when the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling happened in the same week a few days apart, it was a difficult week for us. They were killed, and we instantly felt this shift that we couldn’t come back from. And this had been already–this had already been happening with the deaths of black [inaudible] by the police force and kind of the growth of racial discord, but this heightened those feelings. We were forever changed, and we knew that our work in some way had to reflect it. One of the things that we were saying at the time was, you know, we really feel our tide shifting. And so what we did was we ideated and thought about what is a platform that we can build that allows these stories to be better heard, that allows us to feel like that representation is present in our own spaces? You know, kind of a cross-culture, and so essentially we built a squad of creatives who felt the same way, and then we asked ourselves, you know, how we can build–how we can build a platform and use content and storytelling in unique ways to really amplify the underrepresented, if you will. So additionally, how can we ensure that the voices of everyday people aren’t swallowed or silenced by, you know, silencing forces, including sometimes those that are intra-communal, those that are within our own community. And lastly, we thought about how do we ensure that this becomes an equitable platform where others can engage and tell their stories, not merely a stage where we yell out the answers? You know? We don’t want to speak for people. We want to create a pipeline and a platform that allows for people to speak for themselves, and that’s really where the–you know, where the secret sauce is for us, if you will. We’re all exploring, learning, and growing together, and black being has bound us, and so we really wanted to create a space that honors this truth that is consciously committed to amplifying all of its nuances and all of its complexities, especially by offering up space to the creatives among us who really do their thing and allow those expressions to be seen and heard around the world.
Zach: Man, that’s amazing. So I’m curious, right? So in starting any startup, building any company, you’re gonna take your Ls along the way, right? So I’m curious, what were some of the biggest Ls–and I’ma call those Ls lessons, folks–that you’ve taken in starting a startup?
Matthew: Well, this is my second go around, and so a lot of them I gathered from the first and used as kind of fuel for the second, and so some of the things that I think I’ve really learned are–and I’ll speak more to the lesson portion of it. One is strip away your ego, especially as men. I think it’s ingrained that, you know, we’re kind of conditioned to feel like we know and we have all the authority and the agency and our voice, and so I think it’s important to strip away our ego and to understand if we’re doing what we’re doing for ourselves or for others. I think it’s okay to be both, but others should be a part of it, at least if it’s something that’s socially-minded, right? And for us it’s more important that we get content right or that we tell the story in the–in the right way, that we are as inclusive as we can be, than that it is that I’m right, and so I think that’s something that has been to remind ourselves of, all of us, but for me that starts with me, especially as kind of a leader in the company along with a few other folks. It’s important that I try to be as prideless and egoless as I can be. We can be proud of our work. We can have confidence in our voice, but those voices can’t be silencing of other people. Another one is just don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, I’ve learned to really embrace it. Not in the sense that I’m encouraging or that I’m seeking out failure, but in a way I–I suppose in a way I actually am, you know? In a sense that I want to succeed, but I also know and recognize that failing fast and failing forward is one of the fastest ways to grow, you know? It’s important to seek out growth. It’s important to seek out criticism even, to better understand how we can refine our own processes and things of that nature. So failing, especially as an entrepreneur, allows you to really be the best version of yourself and to implement those lessons moving forward. Beyond that, it’s really about doing it for the love, you know? Passion is, I think, the only fuel that’s really strong enough to push us through some of these experiences. Being an entrepreneur is hard, man. As you know, it’s hard work. You and your team are grinding every day. You’re building. When you look at something that you admire, like a company, a movement, a platform, whatever it might be, and you say, “Okay, I want to get there,” like, that’s a–that’s a large question. How do you get from nothing to…
Matthew: Everything that you admire. To something, exactly. It’s a hard thing, and so if you’re not doing it for the passion, if you’re not doing it for the love, then, you know, then I just don’t know that you’re gonna have enough fuel, enough motivation to push you through all those little moments, all those difficult questions, all those shortcomings, because those are inevitable parts of the journey, and they’re actually part of what makes the journey so beautiful. So valuing every step of that journey is a lot easier the second time around, granted, but those are all valuable things to keep in mind for me. Those have been big lessons.
Zach: Man, that’s a great point. And it’s funny because, you know, you and I connected back–initially back when, you know, Gumbo was Royal, and I was working on another–on another nonprofit, and, you know, definitely–this is also my second go around with Living Corporate, right, and trying to figure out and take the lessons learned from my past venture to this, and it’s like, okay. You’re absolutely right. Like, failing forward, right? And, like, to your point around being passionate and letting that passion drive you, ’cause I can tell you–I mean, I completely vibe with you on the whole “It’s a lot of work,” and it has to be something you’re passionate about because, you know, it’s gonna be long days and long nights, and if you don’t really, really care, like really care about what you’re doing, you know, you’ll end up taking time off, you know? Your content gets delayed. You get delayed, and then out of nowhere you look up and you haven’t moved anything in a month, right? And a month in an entrepreneur’s–a month of no activity in an entrepreneur’s world is like a year, right? Like, you’ve got to keep it going. So–
Matthew: Then there’s also the comparative sense too, right? Which is that if you don’t really care, there’s always somebody out there that does care and that cares more and that is putting in that work, and so if you really want to make it, if you want to, you know, make what you’re doing a success, if not for yourself then for the others that you’re serving, then, you know, you need to put in that–you need to put in that work to get there and be smart about it.
Zach: Right. And it’s funny, right? So it’s–and of course there’s a duality in, like, not being so comparative that you end up robbing yourself of your own journey and your own development and driving your thing, but there’s still the reality of, like, “Look, there’s two people, Matthew, sitting down right now talking about something similar to what you and I are talking about and grinding,” right? And there’s always somebody else out there trying to–and if the goal is for your platform to grow and get out there, no one’s gonna cry for you, right? You have to go, and you have to go get it, and I think–because I’m a Type A in that particular way and I’m a driver that really resonates with me, but like I said earlier, I think you have to kind of balance it between not going to the far end where you end up sapping yourself of the joy of even what you got into it for, you know what I mean?
Matthew: Absolutely, I agree.
Zach: So let me ask you this. What was the–what was the final push? Let’s talk about Gumbo. Let’s talk about Gumbo. What was the final push for you to pursue and commit to growing Gumbo full-time? And what all are you working on these days?
Matthew: Yeah. So the final push was–I mean, it was interesting, right? ‘Cause sometimes I say and think often that, you know, life is like water. I think I heard Will Smith say this someday, and it’s just kind of laws of attraction, right? Like, you put in–the energy you put in comes back to you, and life in a lot of ways is kind of like water in that way in that if you make a decision, if you decide what you want to do and you start moving, it’ll get out of the way. It’ll make a path for you, even if it’s masked under something else, right? So when we started at the time what was Royal Media, which our language at the time was celebrating the complexity of black life, which we’re still doing, but it’s now more embedded in what we’re doing, I actually was laid off my full-time job. I was a nonprofit consulting. The company–I won’t mention the company, but they’ve grown. I was part of, you know, an 8-person team that had grown to about 16 people, and then they laid off about three quarters of the workforce in a matter of months, and I was on the front end of that. So it wasn’t just me, but I think likely part of the energy I was putting into that job was something that was lackluster. I was doing my job, I was being professional, but I also recognized that what I really wanted to do was this work over here. What I really wanted to do was commit to telling the stories and building the pipelines that allow black folks to really celebrate and honor themselves and each other, and that was passion to me, and I think that was felt, but I also think that was felt, you know, kind of cosmically, in a cosmic sense if you will. And so that was kind of a forced push, but at that time I recognized that, “All right. Well, if I’m already in this space, if I’ve already kind of taken the jump, even forcibly, maybe it’s wise that I use the time that I have here to commit to growing this company as much as I can,” especially as one of its co-founders. That’s an unfair weight to put on other people, you know? When it’s not paid work yet, when it’s something that’s scaling. It’s, like, early, early, early stages of startup life. Maybe I’m the right person to do that, and so I did, and I’ve kind of continued to grind on that. It hasn’t been easy by any–you know, any stretch of the word, but it was simple, right? I think there’s a difference between simplicity and [inaudible], and I think we often conflate the two. It’s a choice. The choice is simple – do it or don’t. The path can be very difficult, and the path has been difficult, but the choice was simple. I knew what I wanted to do and I committed to doing it, and, you know, (tried it?) to say after some time we built enough–Gumbo’s essentially an umbrella brand, and so it has other subsidiary groups and companies, and one of them is a creative consultancy, and now I’m one of the full-time consultants in that group. So now I’m starting to pay myself through business revenue to do work that ultimately feeds my soul, feeds my passion, and is a company that I started, and that feels great. And so it’s taken some time, but it’s becoming sustainable work now for me. And so it was kind of a forcible thing, but it was also energy that I put out there that came back at me and said, “You know what? You’re ready for this.”
Zach: So for those–for those who say they can’t afford to pursue their startup full-time, like, what would you say? Right? And if I may ask, like, how did you make it work before you were able to pay yourself?
Matthew: Right. It’s difficult. I would say that there are–one person I really admire who’s hustling in this space, and you guys admire them as well, is John Henry.
Zach: Oh, yeah. Shout out to John Henry, straight up.
Matthew: Yeah, shout out to John Henry from Harlem Capital. He’s doing some amazing work. One thing that he says often is, you know, you can work two things, but the moment that the new thing that you’re building is losing money by not committing full-time, that’s the moment to transition, and so I think if you have the capacity and you have kind of the agency to be at a job that you can enjoy, that you can continue to grind at while you’re building your venture on the side, I think that is a wise choice if you have that–if the energy’s there, right? If it fits, until there’s a moment, and you’ll know when that moment comes. Like, you’ll know when you’re actually being a detriment to your venture because you’ll feel that your energy is the most valuable asset you have, and so there will come a shifting moment where you can make that shift and take that plunge. Beyond that though, I would say it’s really about thinking creatively about your capacity and about what you’re able to do, you know? Especially as creatives. A lot of us have skills that are accessible and valuable as freelancers. I mean, we’ve started this consultancy, and I know that this is a part of what’s paying us now, but the valuable feedback that I recognized in that–you know, stepping back for a moment is that we have a pool of creatives who are looking for work, and a whole lot of business is coming to us asking for work to be done. So there is work out there ready to be accomplished. There are people who are requesting services, and so there are ways to kind of creatively find, you know, services to help pay you and support you while you’re building what you’re doing. Maybe it’s about living a life that’s a little bit more–a little bit more frugal, living a life that’s a little bit more reserved, you know? But you can make it kind of on a part-time basis depending on what your expenses are and what you’re doing to buy yourself that time so that you can open up as much flexibility and time as possible during the day. You know, I didn’t think about how much of a privilege it was that I could have a meeting any literally time of the day, you know? If I’m working 9-to-5, a lot of people don’t want to meet–a lot of business people specifically, new partners, potential investors, they don’t want to meet after 5:00, they don’t want to meet on the weekends, and, like, I don’t know what my solution would be to that apart from taking off time from work if I had a full-time job. So I do think there is a moment when you know that a plunge is necessary to take that next step, you know? Businesses are all about plateaus. Well, they’re all about growth, but every growth curve has a plateau unless you make another shift, unless you, you know, invite new kind of breath, new life, new wind into the company, and for me I recognize that in order to take this to the next level, I need to take a step, and I need to do this for myself passion-wise and joy-wise, but also for the team in terms of the work that we’re doing. So it’s just about being creative, and that’s kind of what I did. So I did some graphic design, I did some editing, content creation, things of that nature, you know? But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It was not easy. It was one of the harder things I’ve ever done, but it paid off.
Zach: Man, that’s amazing. So look, before we let you go, do you have any shout outs or any parting words?
Matthew: Yeah. I mean, I would love to shout out the squad always. Courtney, Andre, [inaudible], Amir, Asia, Mike, John, [inaudible]…
Zach: Let’s get some air horns for the team, for the squad.
[Sound Man throws ’em in]
Matthew: Yeah. I mean, we do it all collectively, you know? And I feel blessed to call these people my family. I guess what I would say is to get yourself a squad, you know? Failure, I think, is easier when it’s shared. Triumphs are more fun when they’re collective, but also strategy becomes easier, I think, for a startup to fill. Like, when you’re filling an asset map, when you’re filling all of the things that you’re capable of doing, it’s easy when you have a team. It’s more enjoyable, and I think it’s a great way to understand that, you know, my skills may not be in finance per se, but I’m great at this [inaudible] stuff. I’m great at people. I’m great at programs. This person’s great at event curation. This person’s great at content. So once you start building and assembling that, that’s really where it’s kind of the shortcut–there are no shortcuts, but it’s the faster route, I guess, to finding a more equitable and well-rounded form of success for whatever your business might be, and so that would be my parting words. Those people I love, I’m fortunate to call them family, and I encourage you to get you some of your own.
Zach: That’s so dope, man. Well, look, that does it for us, guys. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through www.livingcorporate.com. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. We’re gonna just cut all that out. So let me ask–oh, we’re gonna cut this ’cause I want to make sure you plug Gumbo, like–
Matthew: Oh, yeah.
Zach: So I know you gave your parting words, Matthew, but man, we didn’t even plug Gumbo. Like, where can people find out more about the platform? Like, plug all your stuff, man. Drop some air horns for Matthew real quick, and then let’s go ahead and plug your stuff, brother. Where you at?
[Sound Man complies]
Matthew: [laughs] Yeah, appreciate that. You know, the best way to find us across the board is GumboMedia.com. We were lucky to get a solid domain, excited about that since we kind of rebranded and relaunched a lot of our mission, and so everything is housed there. You’ll find access to all of our content, all of our social, all of that stuff at GumboMedia.com. You can find us on Gumbo Media just by searching really any platform. So yeah, we’re–you know, we’re out here. We’re creating. We’re always inviting collaboration, innovation, so reach out, you know? Get involved if you’re interested. We have about 60 creatives that we’re working with and a core team of about 6 or 7, but we’re scaling and building and always looking to build, so hit us up.
Zach: Awesome. Well, look, that does it for us, folks. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. If you have a question that you would like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at email@example.com. This has been Zach, and you’ve been talking with Matthew Manning, founder of Gumbo Media. Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.