Madongorere is still trying to figure out what impact he’s supposed to make in Austin. He and his wife moved to the capital city from Boston with their children two and a half years ago, after someone suggested he visit SXSW.
“I got off the plane and everyone was smiling and happy,” Madongorere said. “And I found that to be so weird, because I grew up in NYC, and I was from Massachusetts. And the only place I’ve seen that warmth is when I lived in Africa for four years. But I was just like, ‘what is happening? I don’t know what this place is, but it feels different. It feels like home.’”
It wasn’t a difficult choice to leave the Northeast, he said. He was starting to feel disconnected like no one understood the value of a content creation firm that focused on tackling injustice through media.
Austin is like a coloring book and there’s still pages that haven’t been colored
“Massachusetts and Boston felt like tech had already begun, and everyone coming into it now, you were almost too late, so you almost had to prove yourself and keep proving yourself” over and over, he said. “Competing with people made me feel yucky.”
“Austin is like a coloring book and there’s still pages that haven’t been colored, and there’s a box of crayons here for you to color with. New York is like, there are no more pages.”
It helped that a Facebook friend who had given Madongorere his extra SXSW passes invested in MOON Ultra, Madongorere’s answer to poorly-lit selfies, on the spot. And he’s been able to find a core group of Black entrepreneurs in tech who help build each other up.
“Here in Austin, you have an ability to write a new story,” he said. “If enough of us win, then we can show other entrepreneurs who are Black that Black people can come here and win.”
Madongorere is used to having to find a different path. He was raised by a mother, whom he describes as “very much a dreamer” who believed there was never a roof or boundary box that could contain one’s dreams. His dad was very much the opposite — practical and focused. The balance between imagination and discipline, he said, has stuck with him throughout his entire life.
I had never seen so many people who were doing important things who looked like me
As a young child, he lived with his family in Jamaica, Queens, but his family moved to New Hampshire, where he would go to predominantly white schools. He moved to Zimbabwe for four years as a teen and had an opportunity to go to school in the country of his parents’ descent.
“I had never seen so many people who were doing important things who looked like me,” he said. “I go to Africa, and the pilot is black and the doctors are back.”
Madongorere said those three distinctly different foundational childhood experiences all impact the way he views diversity and inclusion, and particularly impact his ability to get along with other people, despite their differences. When it came time for college, he got into the design school of his choice, but his family didn’t have the money to send him. When he realized he wouldn’t be able to pursue formal higher education, Madongere’s desire to learn only intensified. Everything he felt he wanted to do after that, he put every ounce of his energy into learning how to do it, and not just the craft itself, but all of the supporting processes.
“I really want to help inspire people as a founder going from nothing to something and see that there’s a path from nothing,” he said. “But what I really want to do is, in the process of doing that, find a way to inspire inclusion,” Madongorere said he found many diversity and inclusion conversations muted and shallow. His hope is to “create that story from multiple lenses of people that look like us, (and) inspire that move from people who look like us … regardless of how you grew up,” he said.
The path to doing that, he said, would be to “just become obsessive about content.”
He knows what it’s like to be evicted, he knows what it’s like to live in his car. He has attended predominantly white schools, lived on very diverse blocks, and lived internationally in a place where everyone looked like him. The youngest Madongorere son has autism, and he said a lack of diverse content about kids who have autism or other learning differences also drives him to push for diversity and inclusion in all areas.
“One kid is different than the next,” he said. “When you think about Black kids (with autism) versus white kids (with autism), … if you’re a white kid and you’re having a meltdown, then the way you’re looked at is different than a Black kid that’s having a meltdown.”
In police encounters, for example, Black people with autism are treated as noncompliant, he continued. And the idea of shedding light on these stories “that can have a massive impact” — “no one’s really sharing these stories, because people are in the middle of it, so no one’s thinking to share or capture it,” he said. But “we want to be more intentional about finding ways to tell these dynamic stories.”
“When it comes to being athletes, musicians, things that we’re expected to be, we tend to be really fearless, but when it comes to being an entrepreneur or whatever else, we tend to be really fearful,” said Madongorere. “I truly want to see people win, and win in a way that’s not detrimental to their betterment.”