Courtne Smith has started three companies since leaving Drake’s management team.
After more than a decade on rapper Drake’s management team, Toronto-born Courtne Smith is creating new opportunities for connections.
Smith is the founder and CEO of NewNew, a social app that allows users to collaborate and connect based on their shared love of video (think TikTok meets Facebook). This is not Smith’s first attempt at doing business. She and her business partner Filip Diarra founded the Tharen hair care series in 2015 and the promotional gift game Suprize in 2018. NewNew, however, marks Smith’s debut in tech, a competitive market with few female founders.
If Smith is something, it is adaptable. Since launching NewNew earlier this year, she has been one of fewer than 20 black female founders in the history of technology to build an eight-figure venture capital company. “Technology can touch anyone around the world. I wanted to find another way to be creative, ”she says. “When I started brainstorming companies earlier, maybe five or six years ago, I realized that I would always come back to the latest technology.”
NewNew focuses on people and how they share their content.
Because (bes) The Culture spoke to Smith about her transition from working on Drake’s management team to becoming an entrepreneur, the path to introducing NewNew, and the obstacles she encountered along the way.
For (bes) the culture: What did you learn from Drake’s management team and what were some of the biggest problems?
Blacksmith: I got insight into the unique way entrepreneurs and brands think and work. Being able to see that behind the scenes firsthand was really a big catalyst for me to want to create something myself. First and foremost, something that would have a really big impact on the entertainment and music industries. In a world of creativity where there are endless opportunities for entertainment, I saw different ways to incorporate my own ideas. During that time it has really fueled my passion and strength in creating and executing large projects. I turned those skills into technique, so the transition was pretty natural.
For (bes) the culture: What makes NewNew different from other apps?
Blacksmith: There is currently a lot of interest in people who create original content, especially in the social field. Most apps, whether new or OGs, are constantly striving to find the next major content creator, and their focus up until this point has mostly been pushing users to create their own original content.
That leaves a huge untapped market that is more focused on people and how they share that content. Also the bonds and the relationships they can form through it. There is a lot of power to be a person who can influence other people based only on content that is liked and shared. With NewNew, users can get real-time feedback and influence others by asking content-based questions that don’t necessarily rely on users creating original content. Users and their friends can work together by voting on the various polls and having conversations based on pre-existing content. We see the app allow its users to share things and create bonds in new ways.
For (bes) the culture: You are not new to the entrepreneurial game. How did these previous experiences help you and how was that time different?
Blacksmith: I learned so much on my trip. The big thing, and of this kind for all businesses, is not to marry your own ideas. Founders often set out to build or provide something they are passionate about. The problem with this is that this idea, or the product you’re trying to create, or the service you’re trying to provide, may not work in the real world.
As a founder and entrepreneur, you need to know when it is time to break away from that idea and take a step back and figure out what really needs to be changed in order for the product or service to work. I had to rely on my ability to be agile and adapt to change. These are things that keep you going. Ultimately, you just need to be able to set your own desires aside and create or deliver a product or service that people want.
For (bes) the culture: Describe the transition from a leadership position to founding several startups.
Blacksmith: It’s like a transition from passenger to driver. When you are a founder, there is nobody but you who makes the final decision. There is really no one to rely on when things get tough and there are no days off. It’s uninterrupted pressure that exists around the clock. I live for this environment and try to get that kind of feeling, but there is a very big difference between working for someone and working for myself.
For (bes) the culture: What were the benefits or challenges of developing and releasing the app during the height of the pandemic?
Blacksmith: We used this time to realign our main users and develop new functions to optimize the platform. We are all adapting to the world with Covid and our new normal. In terms of our platform, we’ve definitely seen changes and usage by users. People spend a lot more time on the app and we’ve seen it spread faster. The goal during this time is to keep bringing out new features and always making sure that people can communicate with each other in innovative ways. The pandemic gave our team the opportunity to develop the app and connect with our users to answer their questions.
For (bes) the culture: How do you pave the way for other black women in tech?
Blacksmith: I am very aware that there are only an extremely limited number of women who look like me in tech. I am also very aware that there is a next generation of young black tech founders out there who may be watching. [For] Myself and other black tech founders who encourage and encourage the next generation of black girls to make their dreams come true are our responsibility.
We are under pressure to be the best and give them the inspiration and confidence they need to make their own mark on the world.