Morgan DeBaun, AfroTech and How Black Tech Innovators Can Take Advantage of the Moment

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

Morgan DeBaun, AfroTech and How Black Tech Innovators Can Take Advantage of the Moment

Seven years ago, Morgan DeBaun left her job in Silicon Valley to help create Blavity, a news and events company geared toward Black millennials.

The name comes from the concept of "Black gravity"— the force that pulls people of color toward each other in predominantly white spaces — and it's intended to reflect the very voices she saw excluded in her tech job.


Over the years Blavity has become an influential voice, birthing AfroTech, a conference that it calls the largest for Black founders and creators, and acquiring travel startup TravelNoire in 2017.

On Saturday, Blavity will host its inaugural AfroTech Executive in Los Angeles. DeBaun, the company's CEO, sees the gathering of dozens of venture capitalists and founders as means to build ideas among leaders who share a collective consciousness about race. It can also help build a network of Black executives so they can get into decision making positions at some of the most powerful tech companies.

Founder and CEO of The Plug Sherrell Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Reddit Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Squire Technologies Songe Laron are among those slated to speak.

DeBaun thinks that coming together is a powerful force, especially after 18 difficult months. At the start of the pandemic, Blavity asked employees to take a 30% pay cut and shut down the Los Angeles office in anticipation of falling revenue. Then came the killing of George Floyd. It took a mental toll on staff but also gave her mission ever more urgency.

The company, which has since secured $12 million in venture funds, has bounced back. And the remote work experience made her realize that the arrangement made sense for employees who had to take care of children or parents.

How did AfroTech Executive evolve? And why did you feel it was needed?

AfroTech has been such a fruitful conference and brand for bringing together incredible Black tech innovators, we knew we wanted to continue to expand into different segments of our community to provide different experiences for connection. We wanted to create a space for executives to dive deep into what is going on in their industry and company, and be able to have candid conversations about what is and isn't working. This sort of exchange of ideas and long-lasting partnerships are at the foundation of AfroTech.

There is a shift going on right now in conversations about diversity and inclusion. But certainly these are not issues that are new to Black Americans. How have these changes impacted thinking among Black executives and other leaders?

Black executives and other Black leaders are really having their voices heard right now and that has pushed people forward, rightfully so, to use this as an opportunity to launch more ambitious ideas for people of color as consumers and different audiences. Taking advantage of this time to build a better opportunity for their employees and community moving forward is definitely something that is on the minds of Black leaders in business as they execute on their priorities.

Are we just at a moment or is there any real change going on?

These continued conversations will bring about real change if we continue to have them and hold businesses accountable by voting for what corporations succeed with our dollars. Through our purchases and our platforms, we should reward the companies that address our needs and treat our community with equity respect, not just in this moment, but for years to come.

You wrote a really powerful piece for dot.LA last year after the killing of George Floyd. You said: "Our pain serves a purpose. Destruction is necessary to make space for a new reality. A new world must eventually emerge because, as former President Barack Obama addressed in his statement this morning, we cannot accept our current reality." How does AfroTech Executive fit into that vision?

It's been a little over a year since George Floyd was murdered and we haven't had a chance to get together in person to celebrate the progress that has been made. Having a moment of time with your community and like-minded individuals to talk about what we've learned, how we've grown, and to celebrate success in Black tech and the media industry is important as this 'new world' continues to evolve.

Who is going to be at AfroTech Executive? Talk to me about the value of bringing these particular folks together.

Incredible tech innovators, investors, startup founders and tech moguls will come together for AfroTech Executive. The conversations that happen, partnerships that get started, and ideas that get sparked when these people are in the room are extremely valuable to the AfroTech community and the larger tech and startup community.

Why in Los Angeles?

L.A. is one of the most diverse cities at the intersection of media, entertainment, tech and finance. It's important to us that we create a community here in L.A. to help bridge the gap between those different industries, and AfroTech does just that.

Is it a good time to be a Black person in tech? Do you have any advice for Black people in tech?

Black people in tech are being heard more than they have historically, and my advice for Black people in tech is to take advantage of this time and push all of the ideas that you have out into the open. Continue to innovate and build.

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rachel@dot.la

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Cadence

Robot Bartenders, Space Construction and a Weight Loss App: Highlights From Techstars’ LA Demo Day

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Robot Bartenders, Space Construction and a Weight Loss App: Highlights From Techstars’ LA Demo Day
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

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Derek Jeter’s Sports Trading Card Company Brings in $10M

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Is Airbnb’s New Push To Expand Short-Term Rentals Enough for Hosts To Combat LA’s City Policy?

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.

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