Jelani Memory started a tech company, raised 30 million in venture capital, and left it at the height of its success to start… a publishing company.
We asked Jelani about his startup successes, his new company A Kids Book About, and why going analogue in a digital world is a move worth making.
What is your mission behind A Kids Book About?
We are on a mission to make kids books that matter. Books that are about all the challenging, empowering, and important topics that kids experience every day. Kids’ lives are complicated, and our mission is to help kids and their grownups have honest conversations about things that matter.
How did you get bitten by the startup bug?
It really happened in college. My freshman year I got injured and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t playing any sports. I realized I had all this free time on my hands and that I had an insatiable desire to create things. That started then and only increased as time went on.
Any other early defining experiences?
I was lucky enough to get to watch Kevin Carroll up close as he transitioned from Nike to going out on his own. He had already done so much from, pro soccer to being in the military, to being the head trainer for the Sixers when Iverson was there. He did everything! He was a true polymath and I think that unlocked something for me. It made it not only possible, but visible, the idea that you could do more than one thing with your life if you simply chased your passions.
Why did you decide to leave Circle?
It was just time. The company was growing and getting bigger every day, and I wanted to be working in a very hands on way. The company needed managers, department heads, executives, not a founder running around trying to do everything. I’m so thankful for my time there and proud of the products we built.
What was your biggest lesson from going through the funding journey?
Honestly I learned a lot. But if I had to pick the biggest lesson, it would be to construct a business model that makes the investor need you more than you need them.
You have six children. How do you do it all?
Ha ha ha! Whether I’m am indeed “doing it all” is yet to be determined. But I would say two things. First, I’m am deeply passionate about making sure I keep my priorities in place. So that means wife, kids, family, work… in that order. It’s nothing but trouble if you get those out of order. Second, I couldn’t do anything without the love, support, and help of my wife Brandy.
Have you experienced overt or subtle racism as a founder who is also a person of color?
Yeah, sure. I’d say it mostly shows up in the surprise on some folks faces when they see I’m the one doing the thing. Like they had a box, and I just don’t fit into it. Or other times it’s the expectation that what I’m working on must be small or I’m struggling to get it off the ground. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Oh that’s your company!?”
How do you stay humble and open to learning in a new industry after your previous success?
It’s really a way of life for me. I love learning and if having all the answers is what success looks like, I don’t want to have anything to do with that. Building a company is the closest thing to the feeling I got playing sports as a kid. It’s challenging, there’s lots of pressure, you’re sure to have failure on a frequent basis, and it’s so much fun. So whether I’m actually humble or ever was successful, I don’t know. I’m honestly just having a blast.
How do you define success?
That’s easy. Finding and doing the thing you are uniquely made to do. That something that you come alive doing, others benefit from and are enriched by, and that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Jelani Memory is live at Pregame HQ sharing his startup journey on November 13 – join us!