Baratunde Thurston: The Bourbon-Based Renaissance and Advice to Entrepreneurs

Baratunde Thurston is the one of a kind man Obama once called “someone I need to know.” Baratunde is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cultivated Wit, Co-Founder of Jack & Jill Politics and author of How to Be Black. His background in technology, comedy, politics and over 30 years experience being black make him one of those people you feel compelled to listen to.

Baratunde Thurston and his glass of whisky. Image from NPR.

Baratunde Thurston and his glass of whisky. Image from NPR.

Baratunde travels frequently, making it to New Orleans once in a blue moon. The tech-loving comedian was recently in town for Inc Magazine’s Grow Your Company Conference (GrowCO) to share what goes on inside his creatively intelligent mind. Beyond the conference, the multi hat-wearing guy sat down with SBN for his self-implemented “Whisky Friday” routine to talk entrepreneurship and New Orleans.

For New Orleans entrepreneurs, Baratunde had one specific piece of advice: “do it Nola style.” He says he is skeptical of claims that any city is the new hub or the new Silicon Valley.

“I love the idea of New Orleans. I think it’s an important city that’s essential to the American character. There’s no place like it. It has the cultural thing, music thing, spiritual thing and now the tech thing. And what you might have here is more art, spirit and collaboration across the interdisciplinary stuff going on…you have to have that funk, to have that improvisation and soul.”

Baratunde also noted New Orleans as one of the cities experiencing what he calls a “Bourbon-based renaissance,” or mid-sized cities in America with an abundance of bourbon and startups. “New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are always going to be important, but there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in New Orleans, Louisville, Detroit, Portland and others.”

When asked if he would start a business in New Orleans, he only said no because the city is, “too much fun.” But, he says, if the city wants to be the next great innovation hub, “go for it…There are much more interesting regional cities now. The assumption that you have to go to this big coastal hub is becoming less potent and I think that’s great.”

Baratunde also had more general advice for global entrepreneurs:

Start something.

“I don’t even care, just do it…There’s a lot of invisible opportunity in this country and on this planet. There’s a lot of money, career development, fun, inspiration that’s happening and it’s sad if it’s only happening among a subset of society. We need all hands on deck doing this.”

Bring others with you.

“I would say keep going and bring others with you.” Baratunde said his favorite part of his professional career has been finding out that others were willing to follow him. “It’s very exciting and humbling yet ego boosting…when you have an idea for this thing you want to do that hasn’t quite been done before and you find out people are behind you to support that or do it with you.” When he realized he wasn’t alone, thus not crazy, it was gratifying and kept him going.

Step away from the details.

Baratunde said one of the most challenging aspects of his career has been to step back, away from the minor details, and look at the big picture. Stepping back from the startup mentality and environment (“hustle, hustle, hustle, grind, grind, grind”) has allowed him to dream up new projects and free himself to write the next thing.

And a few last pieces of life advice from Baratunde: take advantage of the opportunities that knock on your door, meditate, preserve your health and sanity, respect the sacrifice of others, focus on your strong suits, and ask yourself, “what would Jay-Z do?”