Atom Factory's Troy Carter on Diversity in Startups: "The VC World Is Stacked Against Minority Entrepreneurs"

Courtesy of CAA
Bevy Smith and Troy Smith

The new Spotify executive spoke at CAA's third annual You're Up conference for emerging diverse executives on June 4.

Two days before Atom Factory CEO Troy Carter announced he was adding Spotify global head of creative services to his many roles, the music manager-turned-venture capitalist spent his Saturday at CAA, speaking at the agency's third annual You're Up conference for promising diverse up-and-coming executives in the industry.

"Forget inclusion at the Oscars. What do you need that validation for?" Carter said during a conversation with Bravo and SiriusXM host Bevy Smith. "Just make great content."

"In the music business, I've seen black guys reach a certain level and max out," said Carter, adding that he thought even the sales of black-owned label giants like Motown, LaFace and Def Jam were undervalued in retrospect. And in tech, the challenge is even tougher: "The venture capital world is completely stacked against minority entrepreneurs. Our responsibility is to build companies with sustainable wealth."

Carter told the attendees, a group of about 45 men and women recommended by senior executives throughout entertainment and media, that in the absence of a family or collegiate network – his father spent 13 years in prison for murder and Carter dropped out of school at age 16 – he relied on hustle, from camping outside DJ Jazzy Jeff's studio for six months to approaching Puff Daddy for an internship to rebuilding his fortune after losing everything (his management firm, his clients, his home) a decade ago.

"When your back is against the wall, your brain has to function at a high level," he said of that time, adding that he was not immune from depression during those struggles. Shortly thereafter, he met a young artist named Lady Gaga, who had just been dropped by Def Jam.

"We created each other," Carter said of his seven years as her manager, "pushing one another toward our mutual dreams." He added that the hubbub around their "very public divorce" three years ago was bizarre – "To wake up and see shit written about you in Chinese… it's like, 'Are they on my side?'" but had nothing bitter to say about Gaga, calling her "one of the hardest working artists I've ever met."

You're Up also included a presentation on trend forecasting from Jamie Gutfreund, global CMO of digital agency Wunderman, and a panel moderated by Anomaly LA chief strategy officer comprising Aaron Walton and Thas Naseemudeen of digital agencies Walton Isaacson and Omelet, respectively, and Sudeep Gohil, former Droga5 exec and founder of startup Tyde.

The summit is the latest of several diversity-related events that CAA has presented in the past month. The agency hosted an advanced screening of Roots, featuring a Q&A with client Will Packer, for cultural influencers in the black community just before the miniseries' Memorial Day premiere, and it joined with client John Ridley and his management company Brillstein in hosting a TV industry mixer for underrepresented writers in early May. Last month CAA also launched CAA Moebius, a screening series of short films by students from AFI, CalArts, USC, Inner City Filmmakers and Ghetto Film School LA. The series, the brainchild of CAA motion picture talent co-head Jack Whigham and agent trainees Lingie Park, Pete Stein and Zach Kaplan, culminated in a Soho House screening of the top-voted shorts on May 23.

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