Culture Genesis’ Cedric Rogers on reviving All Def: “We’re bringing culture to technology”

The former Apple vet and Y Combinator alum tells us growth plans for All Def, the largest Black-owned digital platform on YouTube and Facebook.


August 17, 2021

If you’re a fan of hip-hop or comedy, it’s highly probable you’ve seen content from All Def. 

With 15m+ fans across its platforms and 500m+ monthly views, All Def is part of the Culture Genesis Network and is the largest Black-owned digital platform on YouTube and Facebook. 

Culture Genesis itself is a medi-tech company co-founded by tech veteran Cedric Rogers. 

“Our core opportunity is to help Black and brown creators grow their businesses and get connected to large brands deals,” Rogers tells The Hustle in an interview. 

Rogers background is particularly useful in achieving these goals: he spent more than a decade launching products at Motorola, HP and Apple before founding a startup (Looklive) that was part of the Y Combinator incubator.

After a #MeToo scandal sent All Def into bankruptcy in 2019, Culture Genesis took over and set the company back on the right path. 

“All Def is a great brand and asset,” Rogers says. “And we want to use the platform not only to create great content but to launch digital creators.” 

Helping in the mission is an investment group that includes high-profile figures from music (TI, Killer Mike, Jason Geter) and sports (Baron Davis). 

Today, All Def is a tech-savvy media company with numerous business arms: 

  • YouTube: 4.5m+ subscribers tune into leading comedy (Dad Jokes, Roast Me) and hip-hop (TriviaMob, Best Moments) franchises. 
  • Ad sale platform: After nabbing YouTube ad sale rights, Culture Genesis could bring in $15m over the next year for its own properties but also put placements in other YouTube channels (5 publishers have signed up). 
  • TV shows: All Def is in talks to turn its franchises into original programming for streaming services. 
  • Apps: Bar Exam is a hip-hop trivia game recently accepted into Apple’s inaugural Entrepreneur camp for Black founders and developers.
  • Merch: Coffee brand “Black and Bold” partnered with All Def’s Roast Me channel for a product tie-in. 

The latest move: a partnership with Instagram’s largest hip-hop account RapTV (@Rap), owned by Trends member Daniel Snow. 

The Hustle spoke with Rogers to find out what’s next for Culture Genesis and lessons from his days at Apple and YCombinator.

***

What’s behind the name Culture Genesis? 

I think it’s important when building products or creating content to begin with culture in mind first. 

If there is a subset of society that is really into a certain culture, you can hyper-serve that segment, find traction and scale up from there. 

Think about how streetwear has affected the fashion industry. Culture really does dictate consumerization and, consequently, technology too. If people don’t understand this, their project will likely fail. 

At Culture Genesis, we’re bringing culture to technology. 

How specifically does Culture Genesis bring “culture into technology”?

Take the All Def YouTube channel. It has 4.5m subscribers and is on pace to do $15m in revenue over the next year.

To get to this point, we’ve: 

  • Managed talent 
  • Built a content studio 
  • Grown social accounts 
  • Negotiated integrated brand deals 
  • Run paid advertising across platforms 

Taken together, All Def provides all the tech and business tools needed for a creator to succeed. A Black or brown creator — the “culture” — can plug into our system and very quickly churn out great content and get into All Def’s existing brand deal flow. 

What are the main goals for All Def over the next 12-18 months? 

We want to keep growing our audience. Two recent initiatives:

  • Africa expansion: We partnered with StarNews Mobile — an Africa-focused mobile video network — to distribute our content to 430m subscribers on the continent. 
  • Instagram: We’re partnering with Instagram’s largest hip-hop account RapTV (@Rap) to distribute content across ~15m of their followers across various social platforms. 

What are the biggest lessons you learned while working at Apple? 

I worked at Apple from 2004-2013. 

This is during the time that Steve Jobs launched the iPhone [in 2007; Jobs passed away in 2011]. 

There are so many lessons, but 3 that stand out are: 

  • Focus on the future: Steve says you always have to look around corners and see where things are headed (like that Wayne Gretzky quote: “skate to where the puck is headed”). 
  • Zoom in and out: Steve would be able to look at the smallest detail — like a single pixel on the phone — but also have the multi-year vision. A lot of people get stuck either on the micro or the macro, because they are both very different skills. Steve had the ability to zoom in and out as needed. 
  • Detail, details, details: Apple nails every detail. Think about the iPhone or Macbook box. They are designed to take in air so they open and close very slowly. It’s meant to bring delight to the customer right when they open the product.

What are key lessons from Y Combinator? 

I did the Summer 2016 batch at Y Combinator. My startup — Looklive — was an ecommerce brand focused on men’s fashion. 

3 lessons from that experience were: 

  • Build something people want: If people don’t really want it, why are you pushing it down their throats? The challenge is: can you find out if a consumer actually wants something without spending a ton of capital? 
  • Do things that don’t scale: YCombinator founder Paul Graham has a famous essay on “doing things that don’t scale”. Sometimes you have to really put in elbow grease to get a startup off the ground. My favorite story is the Airbnb guys selling cereal just to get money to keep the startup afloat. 
  • One thing at a time: Either build or fundraise. Don’t do both at the same time.

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