Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

Artificial Intelligence is Changing the World

Based on an episode with Darius Gant 🇨🇴

Welcome to Latinx in Power, a podcast which aims to help to demystify tech, the way we do that is by interviewing Latinx leaders all over the world to hear their perspective and insights.

We talked with Darius Gant, a founder at Tesoro AI and a podcast host at the Darius Gant Show. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and a MBA in Finance. Darius inspires people through his journey from a pro athlete to Columbia MBA to private equity investor to tech leader and founder.

In this episode we talked more about Darius’ journey leaving a top venture capital firm to focus on entrepreneurship in artificial intelligence, and also why and how AI is changing the world.

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What does it mean to be a Latino for you?

For me, it’s more about a connection to the community. I wouldn’t consider myself Latino by any stretch, an African American male born in the west suburbs of Chicago. I spent the last three years living in Medellin, Colombia. Also, spent time living in Costa Rica as well. One of the things that I love about the culture, in both Costa Rica and here as well, is just the energy of the Latino community. It’s such a positive energy on a day-to-day basis. From the music, to the way people are in the streets on a daily basis. I’m in Medellin today, people are just very nice. Not every US city is like that, but I think a lot of that comes from the things that you see in the culture. I like to reference the music a lot, because there’s a lot of positive vibes that come from that, the dancing with the salsa, merengue, bachata, all of those different things, and even the language as well.

I really enjoy the connection to the community. And then, how I think about things personally and professionally, I’m always wanting to support people who aren’t generally represented, and the economic growth that we’re seeing across the world, but also in North America, in the United States. I want to be that person who supports the underdog. My time living in both Costa Rica, and Colombia, I’ve always felt very supported by the Latino community. So, a lot of what I do from a professional perspective is try to give that back to the community through the businesses that I start, through the connections that I have.

How did everything start?

I’ll start where I am today. I live in Medellin, Colombia. I run a company called Tesoro AI. Essentially, we help startups and enterprises build AI solutions and AI teams leveraging Latin American talent.

Let’s go back to the beginning of my career. I went to college at Illinois Wesleyan University, got a bachelor’s in accounting, got a job working as a CPA for Big Four accounting firm, KPMG, when I was in Chicago. That was very interesting to me, because before that I had always considered myself an athlete. I played college basketball, but at a certain point in my career in college, I started to look at different opportunities that exist for me outside of sports. I may not be the next LeBron James, Michael Jordan, someone who makes a career for a lifetime off of the sport. Even if I were to go pro, there’s still this: most people retire at 30 years old, if they’re lucky enough to make that far, in professional sports, you still have another 50 years. What skill sets can I develop that are going to enable me to live for the remainder of my life?

As I started exploring, I discovered the business world. One of the things I was really inspired by is some of the people who look like me that I hadn’t been exposed to before, but that were doing amazing things in business. For me, in this particular situation, it was in accounting. While I had looked up to folks like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, these iconic figures in sports, I started to recognize other iconic figures that looked like me in business. I said, “Wow, this is an entirely new world that I could potentially be one of those folks.” That motivation, it actually was the reason behind me pursuing a business career immediately after college, versus pursuing a professional basketball career after college. Now that story, maybe we’ll go into that. I did eventually play professional basketball, but my first job out of college was as a CPA for KPMG.

I worked in accounting for about a year. Great experience, learned the numbers behind the business, how numbers drive a business. Ultimately though, for me, I’m more of a person who’s driven by creativity. In accounting, it’s a good skill set to have, but for me it was challenging because creativity is like a dangerous word. When I started to look at what are the things that I could do next, the two options were entrepreneurship, I had a number of friends who had started their own businesses, or go into finance, which is a similar career, but you’re allowed to flex more creativity. I decided to go the entrepreneurial route. I had a number of mentors who kind of sold me on the entrepreneurial vision. I started a company that essentially helps young professionals with financial management. That was great. It was a services business, and I had a lot of good experiences helping young professionals get on track. Ultimately though, that was a challenge, because there’s only 24 hours in a day. When you’re serving as essentially a consultant, there’s only so many people you can work with. This is a long-winded story. The long version of my story.

By the way, but one of the interesting things is I stumbled on to tech, which is a much more scalable path to go down. I stumbled onto tech and I stumbled on to something else called mergers and acquisitions. What I learned about mergers and acquisitions is, “Hey, look, instead of just building, scaling the company by being the founder, you could actually scale companies by going out and just buying businesses and merging them together and creating a larger business,” which was a really interesting concept. I was like, “Well, look, starting something from scratch is incredibly tough. I didn’t know that M&A, mergers and acquisitions, could be equally as tough, but I was like, “Hey, look this is an interesting path to go down.”

I got some exposure to that world during my time in entrepreneurship. But what I did learn is the background for that career path, you’re more of an investor. When I say, “Well, I don’t have an investment background. I’m not going to go out here and raise a billion dollars to acquire companies.” Not at 24 years old and with the skill sets that I had at the time. I was like, “What’s another way I can get the money?” “Oh, you know what? You know how to play sports really well.” So, that kind of got me thinking. There are guys like Magic Johnson, Jamal Mashburn, and a number of other athletes, you see it even more now with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and these other guys who are becoming venture capitalists. But my idea at that time was probably 2010 or something like that. “You know what? I can just use my earnings as a professional athlete, to then go in and invest in companies.” That kind of gave me the economic reason to go back into sports, to create a longer-term wealth creation path for myself. But then, there was also that fire for just wanting to say I was able to do it. People had always asked me, “Why don’t you go play pro? It doesn’t make sense that you never did.” That question always lingers, “Could I have done it?” That was also another motivation.

So, I did that. Went back and played professional basketball, did it for a couple years, ruptured my achilles tendon and had to make a kind of a career decision. “Am I going to continue on this track for basketball?” Or, “Am I going to go back and try to figure out how to do something as an entrepreneur or as an investor?” I decided to go the business path. So, after playing sports, I found a job in investment banking, spent a couple of years in investment banking, then got admitted into Columbia Business School where I was then able to focus on entrepreneurship and technology. After that, I went to work at a private equity venture capital firm in Los Angeles that invests in software companies. So, then I was able to make my way and actually become an investor at one of the top firms in North America.

I can definitely see how smart and strategic you are. Since the beginning, you have basically two plans in your career. So, that’s really inspiring. This is another example of the importance of representation, we need to see ourselves doing the things we are planning to do.

Oh, yeah, thank you. I believe representation is one of the most critical things, and we need it to inspire folks. If you look at, for example, Venus and Serena Williams, prior to them, I’m not a huge tennis person, but I don’t know if there were any black women tennis players that you can look up to as a blueprint for your success. But now that you have them, I forget the name of the two black tennis stars that exist right now, but it’s not an accident that happened. As kids, they were probably inspired by watching Venus and Serena Williams, and charted a path towards becoming that because of who they saw.

For me, once I discovered that there were folks like Reginald Lewis, who is a US African American guy who was one of the first well recognized, in terms of African American investors, as one of the kings of mergers and acquisitions, private equity. But then, you also got Robert Smith, who is leading Vista Equity Partners, the best performing enterprise software investor. You see these folks, and you’re like, “Oh, well, I can do this too.” That level of inspiration has an impact on people who otherwise would have taken their ambitions and applied it to another field.

Talking about Robert Smith, you hosted a Fireside with Robert, a billionaire tech investor. So, you discuss tech and wealth generation in black and brown communities. I know this is a topic that has been the inspiration behind your career moves. Do you want to talk more about it?

It was awesome to have that opportunity to share the stage. For me, in my head, I’m still a kid who grew up in a small suburb in Chicago, with cornfields in his backyard. I never would have thought that sharing the stage with a billionaire would have happened until I decided that that was something that would be interesting to me while I was at Columbia Business School. Just thinking about that, in that conversation and some of the many nuggets that he dropped in the conversation, I was the interviewer, but I also had my pen and pad out taking notes. Well, mentally, of course, I had to do the interview. But he talked a lot about entrepreneurship. He talked a lot about the importance of black and brown folks getting involved in tech, and even more specifically, artificial intelligence.

If you think about some of the ways wealth has changed hands, if in the past, the majority of people developed their wealth through things like oil, think about the Industrial Revolution, most of those folks aren’t black and aren’t brown. That’s because it required a certain amount of resources to be able to create a business in that particular industry. Now that we live in a world that is driven by software, I could literally start a company, build a program from my computer. The resources required to do that are significantly lower. That’s just thinking about software.

But now, we think about the impact that artificial intelligence is going to have. It’s going to create significant wealth. The statistic is that, today, artificial intelligence is a $100 billion market. By 2028, it’s going to be a trillion-dollar market. You think about all of the people who are going to take advantage of that and make money off of that, most of them as presently constructed, don’t look like us. But artificial intelligence is in such an early phase, not in its development, because it’s been around for a while, but in its adoption, that there aren’t your “gatekeepers” that exist in that market. So, it opens the field for anyone who’s willing to develop a skill set around building and deploying AI products or just playing in that market in general, to have access to that wealth that’s going to be created. The opportunity is such that we haven’t seen anything like it since the Industrial Revolution. For a lot of those reasons, they call this the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Now, I’m always trying to push folks to get into it now, because as business matures, as industries mature, you start to have gatekeepers. I’ll go back to, let’s say, finance, for example. There was a time when everyone wanted to become an investment banker. But there was a time when investment banking was new, there was a time when private equity was new. Eventually, now there are gatekeepers. You want to get into that industry, a lot of those people, “Hey, I have an MBA from Harvard Business School, Wharton Business School, Columbia Business School.” Not even that, “I went to Columbia University for undergrad. I work at an investment bank.” There’s this path that you have to take that really, it’s a lot less accessible to black and brown people. The time is now to get involved, because if we wait, that window begins to close. But if we get involved now, you have people who look like this, that not only help from a representation perspective, what we were talking about before, but also have the influence and financial resources to create an industry that can be more representative of what our global population looks like.

So, that was the discussion that we had. We talked about entrepreneurship a bit there, but the way it impacted my career is I later went on to invest at a private equity firm that invests in software companies. But with this idea of artificial intelligence in mind, I had always been thinking about, “Well, how do I position myself to be a part of that?” I didn’t have the answer at the time, but that was a basis for me to start thinking about that.

What are your favorite uncommon strategies to success as a tech founder?

As a founder, the number one thing is we think about, especially a tech product a lot, but I would say the people element is more important, because the people element plays into, if you just think about the organization itself, you’ve got to recruit folks in to help you build, whether that be a co-founder, first employees, and they’re not going to just come knock on your door while you’re coding, if you’re coding and say, “Hey, can I come work for your company?”. You have to be out identifying people who would be a great fit, and who you’d like to team up with on the journey.

The other element of that is when you think about the product itself, when you’re building out this product, you have to build something that people actually want to use, whether it’s a B2C (Business to Consumer) product or a B2B (Business to Business) product. In the development process, a lot of people want to be product, product, product. Yes, but people have to actually say it’s worth buying. It’s involving people in that process of really understanding the product, and how you can create something that will have adoption and market value so that ultimately, as you build a business, it’s something that drives revenue.

There’s this whole idea of, I want to do something that changes the world. Well, the world as we think of it is, I think what folks are saying is, I want to do things that change the lives of the people on the planet. So, your product and what you do with your product is going to be driven by that. You could have the best code in the world, but if people aren’t adopting it, what does it mean? You’re not going to impact anyone if no one uses it. So, including people in your processes very early on is important through all elements of building a business. As a founder, it’s easy to get trapped in your own little cocoon, and not think about all of the different ways that people can be helpful in building what it is you’re ultimately trying to build.

Coming back to the subject about you being an athlete as well. Personally, to me, it’s really inspiring to hear your story. Actually, in this podcast, we also talked with Nathalie Marchino. She was a former rugby player and she made this transition from a professional Olympic athlete to corporate America. I wanted to hear more, how was your process?

I have my friends make the joke that when I say something, they’re always going to be, “Well, you have never lacked ambition.” For me, growing up, I had always, probably like most other basketball players in my generation, been like, “Hey, I would love to be the next Michael Jordan.” So, you try to do all the things that he did to reach that level of success. It was a cool thing to do, but it also resonated with highly ambitious young black kids, young black boys. That’s no secret. You look at the majority of the NBA, and although 14% of the population or 13% of the population in the United States are black, what’s it, African American? But overwhelmingly represented in the NBA, probably the most highly ambitious people are going straight for that industry. That’s just natural ambition and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. I was of that same mentality, and basically allocated all of my energy to being successful in that one particular industry.

Now, in that industry, I think the statistic is 0.1% of people who tried to become professional athletes ever make it. So, you have a bunch of highly talented people that never make it, but don’t use the skill sets learned in that sport to apply it to a different field. When I discovered that I can be successful outside of basketball, it was like opening up an entirely new world. I had discovered utopia. I’m looking at this business and seeing the opportunities that are available, which ignited that ambition and ignited that fire in me that, “Wow, if I just applied all of the things that helped me to become in that 0.1%,” or let’s just say 1%, at the time I was in college, “Top 1% of folks who have achieved this level of success, I can actually apply all those things to another field, and see where it takes me.”

I would say the majority of my life, I had patterned, I had positioned myself to become the next Michael Jordan. But when I discovered that, there were other options available to me that in many ways make a lot more sense, financially and health wise, lifestyle wise, it was like, “Wow, I need to explore that.” Because, look, there’s already a Michael Jordan of the NBA, but we don’t have a Michael Jordan, a person who looks like me in those other industries, who has been the best at what they do. So, I can pivot that ambition to another field, and that’s what took me down a different career path from being a professional basketball player. And where I decided, “You know what? I’m not the only person who can do this.” There are a lot of other black and brown folks who are very talented, and very ambitious, but if they saw what else was out there, they’d have more opportunity to leverage that ambition to be successful in a different field that they probably hadn’t really considered beforehand.

What are the resources that helped you on your journey?

You’ve seen the various different things that I’ve done, and every time I have a crazy idea to do something, there’s always someone who’s like, “You are crazy.” It may mean well, but it’s me, this is what I want to do. I have in my past been very vocal about what my dreams are, and just try to have that conversation with as many people as I can. I’m like, “Look, I just need to find the one person who can help.” It doesn’t matter how many people say this is a bad idea or it’s a crazy idea. I need to find the one person who has resources and is willing to help me. That’s probably a better way to put that. Through every part of that journey, there’s been first and foremost, someone who could point me in the right direction in terms of what the next step is that I need to take, and who would be willing to help, they had confidence and they believed in me and said, “We’ll do X, Y, Z, and that’ll get you to the next step.”

Getting into Columbia Business School, there was someone who vouched for me with that. Getting into investment banking, there was someone who vouched for me with that. Getting into accounting, there was someone who vouched for me with that. Private equity, professional basketball, artificial intelligence, there was always someone who helped me to structure my journey. So, that’s why, again, thinking about people, it’s always important to me to understand that element of the journey. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by technology, but that’s just a tool of the people who are ultimately the ones who use the tool. We’re only knowledgeable of the tools that we know exist. Whether that’d be tech, whether that’d be a book, whether that’d be a conversation, or the ability to have a conversation. We have to rely on people for us to understand, “Well, what tools do I need to pick up? What vehicle do I need to hop in to get me to that next step in whatever?” It could be just what’s a better way to deploy our product? Well, there’s someone who has tackled that product or something similar to it before, so that person is going to speed up our journey. It may mean that we have to learn a new skill set, but we hadn’t known about that skill set before. We have to rely on people to help guide where it is that we are, how it is that we ultimately accomplish that next goal. Think about it in reverse, too. As we accumulate all of these skill sets, how can we look at people who are on an earlier phase of that journey, and direct them, and help them to speed up, basically to get it from A to B.

It can be 5 people or it can be 100 people who want to help you. My major point was like, “Look, this is what I want to do. And I’ve decided this is what I’m going to do.” Everybody else can say it’s crazy. I just need to find one person. If it becomes 50, that’s great. But I need to find one person who can help me. That’s been my approach in all of these different journeys that I’ve taken personally.

How can people find you?

I’ll give the business handles, Tesoro AI. For folks who want to learn more about artificial intelligence, I think a great way to do that is understand why it’s even being created. There’s a technical element and then there’s the purpose of it. I host a podcast, it’s called The Darius Gant Show. The podcast dives into practical use cases of artificial intelligence in business and in the real world. So, it takes it from being this very complex topic that generally is only understood by statisticians, data scientists, machine learning engineers, and puts it in the context of what we do in our normal everyday lives, what we do in business, the problems that the technology is solving. And then, we go a step further in thinking about how some of the leading entrepreneurs, AI founders are actually building these technologies. We get an understanding of what capabilities or what is AI enabling? How is this going to change my life? So, that’s one podcast.

The other podcast I have is dedicated towards, or I should say focused on underrepresented tech founders. I think it’s amazing that we’ve got a lot more funding, going towards underrepresented tech founders and the novel ideas that naturally come from these communities. I want to promote their stories, and have their stories, their journeys put on display. That podcast is called Build Tech Stack Equity. For the name, it’s about building technology, but how do we focus on the biggest driver of growth, which is equity. So, just thinking about wealth generation through the lens of technology, entrepreneurship. These founders get a chance to come on and tell their stories, talk about their products, talk about their journey and the learning lessons that they’ve had in that process. So, that’s another resource that people can dive into.

But other than that, yeah, you can connect with me through any one of those channels. Website has contact information. My personal email is darius@tesoroai.com if anyone wants to reach out.

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Insights and exposure to Latinxs leaders around the globe. In each episode we feature insightful conversations about their journey, stories behind their trajectory, plenty of laughs and learnings.

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Thaisa Fernandes

Thaisa Fernandes

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings

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