BLNDED Founder Series | Divine & BLAK Fintech
Meet Divine, Founder and CEO of BLAK Fintech. BLAK, which stands for “Building Leverage Acquiring Knowledge,” is an online and mobile financial services company. Its mission is to build affordable and tech-driven personal financial and banking products with a focus on the financially excluded and disadvantaged who are “Unbanked and Underbanked.”
So Divine, tell us who you are?
I’m a visionary, leader, Hip-Hop/Rap recording artist, entrepreneur, disruptor and inspirational speaker. The tagline to my life is “from crack, to rap, to tech”. I’m a former substantial drug dealer with a decade of incarceration, an eighth grade formal education, and no tech background.
I was born and raised in Newport, RI and then re-established myself in Brooklyn. Newport and Providence, RI would shape my young childhood. I started traveling to Philly and NYC in my pre-teen and teenage years. I always had a strong affinity for and connected with NYC since I was younger via Hip-Hop, and later via the drug trade and illegal activity as NYC was where I sourced my drugs from. Eventually it would deepen and become more personal, emotional, mental, and spiritual. After a while in prison, I obtained knowledge-of-self and further connected with NYC, particularly the borough of Brooklyn, as that’s where the individual who sparked my spiritual development hailed from. So NYC is really like home and strongly shaped my development as an individual in many ways. As Rakim rapped, “It ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at.”
Can you talk to us about your childhood?
I was initially raised middle-class, but my Moms always worked and provided me with the best. Eventually she fell victim to the mid 80’s crack epidemic when I was about 10-years-old and my life was abruptly thrust into poverty. Despite that, my Moms raised me very well and taught me to be respectful as well as to have principles and morals, as it was instilled in her as a child due to being a ward of the state and being raised in a home by nuns. Overall, I had a great young childhood, but at 13 I started hustling drugs to survive as my family structure collapsed due to my mother’s addiction to crack cocaine. Though I knew who he was, my father wasn’t in my life and I had no male role models. I was always independent and mature for my age so I raised myself from there.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Looking back I’ve always been entrepreneurial since I was a young child. For me it was innate. At an early age I understood the dynamic of the value of someone else’s need and the ability to provide that need for them to profit. I understood the power of convenience and being able to provide that convenience for a price. My father was entrepreneurial, so I inherited that DNA intelligence. I would really go on to leverage all of this at thirteen when I became a drug dealer. I was an informal entrepreneur, just in the wrong space of illegal and criminal activity. However, what sparked me into really deciding to become a formal entrepreneur and legal entrepreneurship was my last incarceration.
I knew I was much wiser than criminal activity and being incarcerated.
Not long after that, I would meet famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, we became friends, and that would be what accelerated my pathway to me officially becoming an entrepreneur. I already planted the seed for and had the determined idea, but he would spark my official startup career.
What problem are you trying to solve with BLAK?
BLAK is trying to solve the financial exclusion problem that exists in the U.S. Our initial focus is on the African-American demographic, as that group is in the worst condition financially and economically relative to their spending power compared to any other group. When I realized the large gap between the rich annual spending power of African-Americans in comparison to their poor financial and economic condition I was compelled and determined to build a tech-driven solution to solve that problem and shift the paradigm of them being consumers to becoming producers.