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Money Talks: Quality Control’s investment manager on finance, the music industry and venture capital

todayJanuary 9, 2023 3

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Courtesy: Dazayah Walker

The quality management system consists of three parts: quality planning, quality assurance and, most importantly, quality control. The first known use of the words quality control was back in 1935. Quality control is a system that companies use to measure that their systems are intact.

The record label, Quality Control, is almost 10 years old. But you wouldn’t know that by their global impact. They’ve turned out industry-changing artists such as Lil Baby, Migos, City Girls, Lil Yachty and Milwaukee’s own, Lakeyah.

Dazayah Walker, the company’s 24-year-old investment manager talked with HYFIN’s Element Everest-Blanks about her background in economics, how she connected with QC, venture capitalism and how it works.

The following interview was conducted before the tragic incident involving Migos member, Takeoff. Our condolences to all who knew and loved him. This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Element Everest-Blanks: In 2019, you graduated from Spelman with a degree in economics but you were never taught about this industry. Let’s go back to when you were at Spelman. What did you originally want to do when you went there?

Dazayah Walker: Yeah. So when I went to Spelman, I knew that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, which is why I chose econ, because at Spelman there’s a limited number of majors that you can choose from. And I chose econ because I figured that was as close as I could get to business.

But I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. I didn’t know that I wanted to work in music specifically until I took a class my junior year. But prior to that, I tried everything, advertising, marketing, PR, you name it, I tried it. And then when I took that class now specifically on the music business, I said, “I want to work in music.” And that’s when I decided that’s my specific industry within entertainment that I want to work in.

EEB: What position did you want to play in the music industry? Did you know exactly what you wanted to do?

DW: Not exactly. I used to think that I wanted to be more on the creative side, just because when people think of the music industry, they think of marketing and they think of the A&R. I never wanted to be an A&R but you think of those things when it comes to music.

But one thing that I found that I absolutely loved and that I was really good at was the back end. All the logistics, paperwork, the boring stuff, that’s what I was good at and that’s what I loved. And I found that’s so important in the music industry because somebody has to do the work, somebody has to make sure the business is taken care of. So that’s where I found myself really enjoying and liking more than the creative side of the music industry.

EEB: How did you go from becoming a graduate at Spelman to Quality Control?

DW: Yeah, so I actually started interning at QC my senior year at Spelman. So it was a very smooth transition. And I kind of did that strategically because I wanted to set myself up to have a position after college. I know that it’s kind of unheard of to land a job in the music industry immediately out of college, but I was very intentional with how I set myself up.

So making sure that I was very involved, volunteering, interning, helping out whenever I could. And one thing that I quickly discovered is that the music industry in Atlanta is very small, so I would see the same faces as I was behind the desk working check-in, so people became really familiar with me and they got to see my work ethic.

So you would see me in these rooms, but I would always be working. So I was able to build my network in that way and people became very familiar with my face and my work ethic.

EEB: Because there are a lot of people who want to jump from a learning environment, whether it’s traditional learning or non-traditional learning, right into what they think they want to be. How important was it for you to be an intern?

DW: It’s so important because one, you learn the lay of the land and the cultural aspect of things. Because in the music industry, you’ll find that a lot of things are unspoken rules. So by getting as much experience you can as an intern, that’s your time to mess up and to make mistakes. So I was able to see a lot of things firsthand early on that I knew to kind of watch out for and how to navigate myself in this space, especially as a woman in the music industry.

So putting myself in those spaces early on, I really learned the dos and the don’ts, and I feel like that has carried me very far because I always maintained a sense of professionalism. I never wanted to be mislabeled or put myself in rooms where people would get the wrong idea about me. I always wanted to be seen as somebody that is there to work, and I didn’t come here to play.

EEB: Quality Control has been around for roughly 10 years.

DW: Yeah, [this] year will be our 10-year anniversary.

EEB: And the reality is they have changed the music industry with their roster of artists.

DW: Absolutely.

EEB: I mean, I’m talking Lil Baby, Migos, City Girls, Lil Yachty, managing Cardi B, even with Lakeyah from Milwaukee. I mean, if you think about the caliber of artists on this label, it is absolutely amazing.

And you’re in as an intern, you’re there at the ground floor. How does it feel to see all of these artists bubbling up? This tiny little label in Atlanta is changing the industry and you’re on the ground floor. What does that feel like?

DW: Yeah. It’s crazy, because just how you mentioned next year we’ll be celebrating our 10 years. Next year I’ll be celebrating my five year, and I didn’t realize I’ve been here half of the lifespan of QC.

EEB: That’s crazy.

DW: It’s crazy because I have definitely seen us grow tremendously, just expanding and really becoming the empire that we are and really having that same level of control and domination in other industries and sectors, so how we have QC Sports and Quality Films and Solid Foundation Management.

So all of those different areas, seeing those things really grow and reach that same level of respect that we have in the music industry and having that same impact in those other spaces as well. So it’s been amazing to witness, to be a part of and to add value to and to just be a part of all of that.

EEB: Now you’re thinking, “Okay, I want to do more.” So now you’re operations manager, right?

DW: Yes.

EEB: What is a day in the life of an operations manager at Quality Control look like?

DW: There are so many moving parts, how I mentioned we have QC Sports and Quality Films and just everything under the umbrella. There’s so many different things going on in a week. It could be our athletes are having something and then our artists are having a show.

So it’s a mixture of things, but just making sure that things are running smoothly in the office, the back end of stuff is taken care of so that as people are out in the field and really moving around and moving and shaking, they have everything that they need to flawlessly execute. And it took time for me to get to this point to be able to do that just because QC was my first job.

EEB: Wait a minute, wait a minute. So you’re straight out of college, into a record label that will soon change the music industry globally, and this is your first job?

DW: Absolutely. I only ever had internships.

EEB: Wow.

DW: It’s my first job. So it’s like I had the learning curve of being new to the workforce.

EEB: How did you stumble upon venture capitalism? Because we just discussed that you didn’t learn this at Spelman. So how did this come up?

DW: So it was during the quarantine. 2020, I was on my computer just like everybody else. And I’m the type of person when I find something that is interesting to me, I try to learn as much as I can about it.

And I randomly stumbled upon venture capital, had never heard of it. I think I may have heard bits and pieces about companies getting acquired, but never really knowing what that means or really understanding what the back end of the growth of companies like Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, what all of that means or what it even looks like.

EEB: Mm-hmm.

DW: So I just started doing my research, and the more that I learned, the more intrigued, the more interested I became. And then I continued to do my research and I saw the opportunity for artists, athletes and entertainers to be investors because one, they already have the capital to invest, and two, they have the influence to help grow these companies.

So it was just kind of a no-brainer to me that there aren’t more people in these spaces investing in this way and building generational wealth in this way. So that’s when I bought the idea for us to start our own venture arm, and that’s how we now have Quality Ventures and I am the investment portfolio manager.

EEB: So you said to TechCrunch, “This is one of those quietly kept secrets in the industry that people have been becoming multimillionaires for years and we have not been included.” What did it feel like when you had that ‘aha’ moment?

DW: This is the work that I am here to do. And I found I feel like really this is my purpose, how I didn’t realize the impact that I could have and I am having by being in this position. Because one thing that I learned that a lot of people that do not look like us, they are wealthy because of not what they’re doing day in and day out, but the money that’s working for them when they’re not working, and that’s through their investments. And a lot of people don’t know that, and that is how you build generational wealth.

So educating myself so I can educate others to put them in a better position to be investors and to take advantage of this asset class and really position ourselves to be in a space where we’re not supposed to be, and using the resources and the influence and things like that that we have to insert ourselves in these spaces.

EEB: How do you convince them to take this idea of yours seriously?

DW: Yeah, I mean, I put together a pitch deck and when you see the statistics, the numbers, the opportunity, you get it, it makes sense, because if you have the money to invest, that’s the smartest thing that you can do.

So being in a position, a unique cultural position, and having access to deals that people don’t normally have access to, taking advantage of that opportunity and putting yourself in position to really get ahead of that and capitalize on that.

EEB: So for people who might not understand what we’re talking about, let’s put it in very plain language.

DW: The best way to make a smart investment is to do proper due diligence. You want to invest in companies that have a great team behind them, their company is seeing some traction, meaning that they’re getting users or whatever industry or whatever it is that they’re building, people are taking a liking to it or gravitating toward, there’s promise with whatever they’re building. And kind of getting in on that early.

So the best example that I typically like to give is there was once upon a time when Instagram was just an idea. Some people built an app and they took it to the market to try to raise venture capital funding for it. So most likely they had a pitch deck that they put together and they shopped it around, or they had pitch meetings with investors. There were a few early investors who, maybe, put in $20,000 and that gave them a percentage of equity within the company.

That percentage of equity, that $20,000, 10 years later when Instagram was bought by Facebook, that $20,000 becomes $10 million, because that percentage that you own, as the value of the company grows, your ownership percentage grows.

So getting in on companies that are promising very early, and when it comes time for them to have a liquidity event, which is either them being acquired or them going public, meaning being on the stock market, that’s when you get a return on your investment.

When it comes to investing in tech and in startups, you’re really taking a risk because people can make it sound good, it can look good, but there are so many factors that go into building a successful startup.

So you want to place as many bets as you can. They may not always win. You may not always get the return that you hope for, but putting yourself in position to make those investments and hopefully getting that return on your investment, that’s the best way to navigate when you’re investing as a VC.

EEB: Let me ask you this, what are you? What is DW looking for? You have 10 startups in front of you, they all sound amazing, but why would you pick one over the other?

DW: Yeah, I think the best thing, especially when it’s an early stage startup, so if they’re raising their pre-seed, their seed or their series A funding, the best thing to look at is the team. Because typically when a company is in that stage, they don’t really have much to show. They may not have fully built out whatever it is that they’re building. They need people to take that chance on them so they can actually have the funds to build whatever it is they need to build.

EEB: Mm-hmm.

DW: They may be pre-revenue, they don’t have any money coming in. But when you have a solid team, people with a solid background or people that really believe in the vision of what they’re building, those are the people that you want to take a bet on.

So I always say the team is really important. And if they have a sound concept, something that they’re building that there’s actually a demand for or a market for, those are the things to really pay attention to when it comes to evaluating startups.

There are different stages or different groupings. Typically, if you want to invest as just a regular person, that can be considered an angel investor, or if it’s a matter of your cousin or somebody in your family is building something, you can get in on the friends and family round. So that would make you an investor and you’ll be able to get equity within that company, it’s just not the traditional structure of a venture capitalist working for a fund.

Another form of investing, you have to be an accredited investor. So that’s when your network is a million and above, but the tier underneath that is an angel investor. And anybody can be an angel investor because that’s getting in really early. And that can be within the friends and family round.

To be 24 years old in this position and to have the support of everyone here, that just says volumes and speaks volumes for the people that I have in my corner.

EEB: When it comes to being a venture capitalist, do you ever have companies say, “Oh, I definitely want you to invest, and Cardi will be crazy, and put her in our outfits,” and asking for personal artists to be a part of the investment opportunity?

DW: Yeah, that’s going to happen. And when that happens, it’s just a matter of having a conversation with the founder and letting them know you have to really think about what your target audience is and why is it that you think this partner or this person being an ambassador for your company is the right fit.

So it may just be them having their blinders on or being star-struck and just wanting to put that name, but it’s like not all partnerships are strategic and not all partnerships make sense, so just helping the founder understand that.

Now I feel like a lot more artists and athletes are getting into this space. I really feel like Nas set the tone for that because he’s kind of, especially for me, the poster child of, “This is what you need to do and this is what the results could be if you invest in tech.” So that has really sparked the interest of a lot of artists and athletes.

So really putting myself in the position because one, I’m someone that people trust in the industry, which is why I feel like I’m uniquely positioned to kind of help these people and this is what I’m here to do. So just educating as much as I can and sharing the things that I learned. And one way that I do that is I have a small series on my Instagram. I call it “Finding My VoiCe”, emphasizing the V and the C in voice.

EEB: Let’s talk a little bit more about Mr. Jones. What makes Nas stand out?

DW: I would say how he got into some really good deals early, and that’s because he trusted the people that were around him. You want to have people that are knowledgeable, that have the experience around you so they can guide you, because it’s easy if you’re looking at a deal and you don’t really know what to look for, any and everything looks promising, any and everything looks exciting.

So having people around you that really know how to pick good deals and good companies, I think that’s what really sets people apart. And Nas did a really good job at building a strong team around him to help guide him on which opportunities to invest in.

And for him, I really think he was able to leverage the influence piece because people that are fans of him, sometimes they just want to have a meeting or be in the room with Nas. So it’s like deals will come to him. That is the power of influence. Things will come to you and that’s how you can get in on some of the best deals early.

EEB: So for people who aren’t aware, tell us a few of the investment portfolio pieces that Nas has.

DW: I think Ring was one of his investments. I think he may have, was it Uber? PillPack was one of his.

EEB: Yeah, are there any artists or athletes that we would be surprised who are investing?

DW: Yeah, I think one of my favorites, he’s been an amazing resource for me as well is Chamillionaire. He is one of the silent assassins, so if y’all don’t know, go do your research. Chamillionaire is out here making amazing, amazing moves in the venture space.

EEB: I absolutely love that because you’re right, I would’ve never known. What has been one of the most successful investments of Quality Control? What’s something you’re so proud of that you guys have been involved in?

DW: Yeah, so one of my favorite companies in our portfolio is called the Founder of Black Women, her name is Jacquelle and she’s building something amazing. And I personally loved this one because I related to it because I was a fan girl back in the day, and the app is based on creating targeted fandoms for artists.

EEB: Mm-hmm.

DW: So that was one of my favorite investments that we made.

EEB: If I wanted to get into venture capitalism, what would be three things that you would want me to know right away?

DW: I think the first thing is to collect your arsenal of resources. And for me, that looked like becoming a fellow of HBCUvc. So HBCUvc is a program, a fellowship for HBCU students that want to get into venture capital.

Doing as much reading and research as you can just to understand how people are thinking in this space. Understanding some of the terminology like what is a TAM? Total addressable market, what does that mean? And just the different aspects of what goes into a pitch. So when you’re looking at these companies, you kind of know which points to pay the most attention to.

EEB: Mm-hmm.

DW: And then the third thing I would say is building a tribe, building a community. Because for me, being new into this space, I have leaned on the people that I’ve been able to build relationships with like no other, just because these are people that are actually in this space doing it, and they’ve been very helpful to me, like how I said Chamillionaire has been an amazing resource.

Having people like that in my corner that I know that I can reach out to or ask questions and I just know having their support, those are the top three things. So building your arsenal of resources, kind of understanding the back end of what goes into a good deal, and then having a solid community around you.

Written by: Element Everest-Blanks

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