RareBreed Ventures

McKeever E. Conwell

“The person who influenced me the most was my dad. My dad was a man of great ambition, and although he didn’t have the opportunity to pursue those ambitions, he made sure that he imparted the wisdom that I should go and pursue mine.

The greatest example of that is when I was younger, like every other black kid in Baltimore, I wanted to be a rapper.

I told my dad and he asked me this poignant question that I’ll never forget. He asked me, “Who signs your favorite rappers checks?”

I didn't know. He made me go figure it out and then he asked me, “Do you want to be the rapper, or do you want to be the person who signs the rapper’s checks, because I promise you, that person makes a lot more money.”

So, for me, I always wanted to be the person who signs the checks.

I didn’t have a plan to get there, just a realization that it's cool to be the employee, but you want to be the boss. So, I asked myself, how do you get to be the boss? You start a business, or you work really hard and work your way up.

My goal was to be the person who writes the checks, but I had to figure out how I was going to do that.

I grew up in the Park Heights area of Baltimore City near The Reisterstown Road Plaza until I was about ten years old. My family then moved to Randallstown, which is in Baltimore County.

I went to Morgan State University and was in a student program working with the government. I left Morgan during my junior year to start my career as a government contractor for the Department of Defense.

I did that for six years, and during that time I was inspired to start my journey toward becoming a business owner, the person who writes the checks.

My friend, Patrick Jackson, who is now the CTO of a company called Disconnect, Inc. in San Francisco was adamant about using his skills to become an entrepreneur. He was obsessed with becoming the black Mark Zuckerberg.

The iPhone came out in 2007 and he made his first iPhone app in 2008. He was the first one in my friend group who quit his job, moved to San Francisco and started a business.

That's how I got into creating startups. I eventually had two and the first one was successful. We ended up selling off its intellectual property to a Fortune 100 Company after four and a half years of learning everything the hard way.

My second company, Red Berry, was an online platform that looked and felt like Instagram but every product on it had a buy button before Instagram had a buy button.

We got into an accelerator in Philadelphia and then my CTO disappeared, which killed the project.

It was a terrible experience for me when my company failed. I was depressed and locked myself in the house for six months.

I learned two things from having my second startup fail. The first is, the people in my life didn't care that my company failed. Their love and care for me was not conditional and based on me having a successful startup.

The second thing I learned is that failure sucks and it hurts, but it doesn't define you.

So, I decided to start over. I came back to Baltimore and worked for a marketing firm.

Oddly enough, the two biggest shifts in my career since my second startup failed have been preceded with a police officer killing a black man.

I say that because after I’d been at the marketing firm for a year, the week Philando Castile was shot and killed in his car by a police officer, was the same week that marketing firm started soliciting the National Rifle Association for a contract.

When they won that contract, I quit.

I didn't know what I was going to do next. I quit on a Friday and the very next Monday I got an email saying the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) was hiring, so I decided to give that a shot.

I started working on their seed investment team and learned how to invest in startups. I was on the team to help lead the initiative to create what is now known as the builder funnel, a pre-seed fund specifically for underrepresented founders.

I noticed there were founders we weren't investing in that I truly believed deserved funding, that's when the idea of RareBreed started.

My career shifted again in 2020 after George Floyd was killed. Due to this tragedy, there was an outpouring of financial support for black businesses. My advisor encouraged me to take my idea to the next level and raise a fund.

It took some time, but I was passionate about the work. I left TEDCO, and then found myself in the middle of a pandemic, raising a venture capital fund.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced while doing this work is the lack of a network. I had to figure out how to create one without being able to meet with people in person due to the pandemic.

Around the time I started thinking about raising my fund, I started becoming more active on Twitter. Last June, I had 2,500 followers, and today I have close to 37,000.

I noticed other investors were following me and I made it a point to send them a message for a meeting. Last year, from the middle of June to the middle of September, I had over 1,100 meetings. At the height of it, I was having 25 meetings a day to build my network.

I decided to base RareBreed Ventures in Baltimore because it’s my hometown, the cost of living is more affordable than other cities and we have a community here that will welcome you with open arms and support you.

I started my first company in 2010, but I didn't get into the Baltimore Tech scene until 2012. Most of the time, I was one of the only black people in every room, which was uncomfortable, but nobody else in those rooms cared. They were happy to share advice and information, so I learned how welcoming and helpful people in Baltimore can be, specifically in the startup ecosystem.

I think it’s important to uplift underrepresented voices in the business community because all the voices that we're hearing in the business community sound the same.

When we talk about diversity, people like to say diversity of thought is important. I agree, but you don't get diversity of thought without talking to people from diverse backgrounds.

Fundamentally, underrepresented voices come from diverse backgrounds where they have voices and opinions and thoughts that just aren't being heard.

When we talk about diversity, I want people to understand that the term diversity means everybody. It doesn't just mean whatever affinity group you care the most about, it means everybody's voice.

My hope for the future of Baltimore’s economy is that we get to a day where you don't have whole communities with households that make less than $20,000 a year.

What do you expect for people who have to spend their lives day to day trying to figure out how to survive, literally?

We have to figure out how to provide opportunities for economic growth for everybody.

I understand not everybody's going to want to take hold of those opportunities, and it's never going to be a perfect system, but there are people who don't even have opportunities for economic growth, or the opportunities they have are very specific and very limited.

My hope is that we get to a point where Baltimore gives every citizen an actual opportunity for economic growth, no matter who you are, how old you are, or if you went to high school or not.”

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