Breaks on a bus, brakes on a car
Breaks to make you a superstar
Breaks to win and breaks to lose
But these here breaks will rock your shoes
And these are the breaks
—Kurtis Blow, “The Breaks”
About a half century ago, Clive Campbell, a local DJ in the South Bronx hosted a party for his sister’s birthday. He’d been experimenting for almost a year with a new way of DJing, using two turntables instead of just one, for the purpose of extending what’s now known as “the break” portion of the record (the part of the record where the song breaks down to the percussion solo). His breakthrough revelation came when studying how excited people would get at that part of the song and realizing it was too short. He thought, “What if I played a whole party of continuous breaks?” He then unleashed his new idea on the partygoers at his sister’s birthday. This party, famously held at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, became the talk of New York, and eventually the world. DJ Kool Herc, his stage name, had unknowingly started a global phenomenon, Hip Hop, which is arguably the biggest cultural breakthrough of the past century. What came next was an explosion of art (graffiti), dance, music, fashion, and language that is now intertwined into almost everything we do, from our social lives to how we sell and consume products.
The most important aspect of Hip Hop as a breakthrough is its core cultural message: the idea that a person can go from having nothing to being the greatest and have license to announce that greatness before it’s even realized. This core feature of Hip Hop culture is in and of itself entrepreneurial.
Which brings us to the Talent x Opportunity Initiative (TxO). As Hip Hop’s birth story illustrates, new ideas that go on to become breakthroughs are often built by under-resourced outsiders. Being an outsider is a strength. It takes a special kind of rebelliousness, ambition, and inventiveness to create the future when scarcity is all around you, and it’s these brave, industrious, non-consensus thinkers who often reimagine the world for us. This is the power of building something from the culture up. Ironically the cultural strength found in being an outsider can many times become a weakness as their ideas are popularized and commercialized. This inflection point is when an entrepreneur needs the right relationships and knowledge to break through the barriers to success. Even geniuses need breaks for their breakthrough. We aim to give them that with TxO.
So what is the TxO Initiative? In short, it’s an accelerator program. The idea is to search for and find the very best consumer ideas with cultural tailwinds that are being built by elite entrepreneurs, who are outside of the mainstream networks that Silicon Valley investors typically source from. Once in the program, we will equip each entrepreneur with the knowledge it takes to build and scale a company through instruction that borrows from our experience and lessons learned from building successful ventures, and then we will activate our vast network of operators and executives to help the founders as they progress. The program will run for 10 months, all online, and conclude with a virtual demo day.
With this first iteration of TxO we received and reviewed applications from over 1,200 entrepreneurs, of which seven finalists were then each nominated for a $100K investment from the Tides Foundation, the sponsor of the TxO Donor Advised Fund (DAF). The TxO Fund’s standard investment terms provide that in exchange for the $100K, the entrepreneur agrees to give Tides Foundation (as sponsor of the TxO Fund) a SAFE note that converts into a 7% percentage ownership stake in the company. To be clear, a16z does not profit from any of the returns: All returns generated by these holdings go directly back into the fund, with the hope that we can continue to support many future generations of founders. In many ways, this is the philanthropic commitment each TxO founder has made to the program and to future TxO founders.
With that, we are pleased to announce TxO cohort Alpha:
Karen Young is a talented beauty professional who saw a need for skincare products that are both non-toxic and marketed and built for the modern and empowered women of this generation. She is validating the market for this product with her company, Oui the People.
Tony Brown teamed up with his brother Ameer Brown and co-founders Daniel Ware and Rotimi Omosheyim to start Breakr, a platform that helps independent music artists take their music viral. The two-sided marketplace will match independent music artists with a network of influencers to promote their music through paid campaigns.
Autumn Adeigbo is a Nigerian American designer with a distinct and colorful aesthetic she aspires to translate to all women with her eponymous multicultural fashion brand, Autumn Adeigbo. The company utilizes women-owned production facilities to develop and deliver fashion through their website.
Vivian Xue Rahey comes from a family of entrepreneurs—it is in her blood. Starting as a nail hobbyist, she quickly became a nail influencer on Instagram and decided to build Pamper Nails, a customized press-on nail kit, on top of her massive following and the trust she has earned as a nail expert. Her brand, Pamper, customizes press-on nails through a network of talented nail artists and then ships these one-of-a-kind luxury nails to the customer.
Javier Laval earned his knowledge of the music industry while building out promotional teams for Nas, Notorious B.I.G., and others. Now this serial entrepreneur, who previously built the shoe brand, Android Homme, is back again with his latest company, FutureStream, a streaming platform for live music performances. This is an exciting option for artists trying to recoup live performance earnings lost during the pandemic. The platform has already hosted virtual concerts for artists such as DJ Sneak, Roger Sanchez, and Da Baby.
Corianna and Brianna Dotson are twin sisters—also known by their stage name, Coco and Breezy—and cultural mavens, influencers, musicians, and designers, who once designed shades for Prince and Beyonce, amongst others, and counts Rihanna as a fan of their designer eyewear. They, along with their third co-founder Duane Baker, have taken their impressive eye for design and their prophetic understanding of where the culture is going to build their eyewear brand, Coco and Breezy.
Amin Bahari, Amir Bahari, Caleb Bluiett, and Tim Cole are building Elite Sweets, a healthier, protein-rich donut. The idea was inspired by Amin’s own impressive fitness journey. He then teamed up with his brother Amir and recruited their friends Caleb and Tim from the University of Texas football team to design the kind of healthy snack they always wished existed when they were working hard to lose weight. They now hope to bring healthy donuts to the world via their website.
We are so proud of all of the members of this cohort, and are grateful for the support of the community of donors, mentors, and partners that have helped us fund, design, and operationalize TxO.
We would like to give special acknowledgement to our VIP-level donors. We exceeded the ambitious goals that we set for this fund and we would not be here without your generosity and commitment. In alphabetical order:
- Bob Ghoorah
- ZTEOG Foundation (Jim Goetz)
- Thomas Laffont
- Aaron Levie
- Jen Rubio
- Curtis Spencer
- Kenny Stone
We would like to also thank our premier partner Google and our resource partners, below, who have generously offered to provide substantial support to the program:
- United Talent Agency
- Fenwick and West
- Summit Series
Finally, we’d like to thank the Tides Foundation, who throughout the process of forming this program has been tremendous advisors and partners. We look forward to many years of partnering for the success of TxO.
Rest in Peace to my dear friend Andre Harrell, the founder of the iconic record label, Uptown Records, and a mentor to so many of today’s cultural leaders and an inspiration for our work on TxO.