Episode 20: Bootstrapping A Tech Startup While Paving The Way For The Next Generation

Hello, listeners! Welcome back to another exciting episode of Tech Forward. This week, I spoke with Omari Edwards. In addition to serving as a board member at leading technology proficiency non-profit Mouse and founding K-12 STEM enrichment program Technology for {You}th, Omari is also the founder of image-based analytics platform Beak. We discussed his different experiences as a black man at both Morehouse College and the University of Pennsylvania,  and the unconventional journey of Beak from inception to present day.

Omari spoke highly of the mentors in his early life, both in his family and in school. These role models instilled in him the confidence to seek out schools he might not have otherwise considered. He attended historically black Morehouse College for his undergraduate studies, and UPenn for his M.S. in Systems Engineering. While he loved both schools, the largest difference between the two was a top tier but purely academic experience, versus a more holistic one. UPenn had all the benefits of an endowment in the billions — state of the art classroom tech and up-to-date facilities — but at Morehouse, “there was a different type of learning that went beyond the academic. Seeing the historical names of Black people on the campus buildings, as a minority, you knew you were standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Omari got the idea for Beak while writing tracking software for an email marketing platform. This small, proprietary bit of code allows companies to track user activity online and show appropriate advertising. To Omari, the idea of being able to personally track his own emails was enticing, and so he released the first iteration of Beak with little fanfare. Much to his surprise, a few years later he discovered emails from large organizations who were using the platform in a way Omari hadn’t anticipated: tracking internal company memos.

Beak, in its current form, is a SaaS platform that allows companies to track and analyze content they share online: images, emails, web posts, ads, and more. What sets Beak apart from other analytics platforms is that it is image-based, rather than Javascript based. Since many sites such as Craigslist don’t allow Javascript, but do permit images, this gives Beak a competitive edge. Users select their tracker type and can get started in 3 steps or less. After collecting data, they can view analytics and download reports from Beak.

Between its inception and now, Beak has grown piecemeal but, as Omari says, “Every piece worked. Over time you develop a sense for what your users want.” This unconventional journey happened in part because Omari insisted on bootstrapping the business so as not to diminish creative control. “We were able to make decisions that investors might have opposed, but which worked out long term. We knew we could make it to the point of self-sustainability.”

Having witnessed firsthand the lack of racial and gender diversity in the STEM fields, Omari is also passionate about giving back to his community in the form of youth outreach. Through Technology for {You}th, he has created a curriculum for K-12 students to learn how to code. Currently, 7th and 8th grade students in the program are learning at a level that surpasses college equivalent Advanced Placement high school programs. “It’s been an interesting ride, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

Omari, thank you so much for coming onto the show. I’m excited to see how Beak and all of your other ventures continue to grow, change, and serve their respective communities. Thank you also to all of my listeners for tuning in. See you next week!

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