MATT TUFFUOR, CO-FOUNDER OF THE TOASTED LIFE, TALKS THE IMPORTANCE OF CULTIVATING COMMUNITY
The desire to find community is an intrinsic part of the human experience. However, despite being deeply rooted in our nature, the need for social connectivity requires close attention, care and effort to be truly satisfied in today's fast-paced and increasingly digital culture. Through exploring the intersection of networking and nightlife, lifestyle brand Toasted Life has organically found its stride, offering a wide range of services that embody their core mission of bringing young professionals together.
"Droplabs shoes takes listening to music and puts it on steroids. It's another level of experiencing sound."
The company was co-founded in 2013 by Matt Tuffuor and Warren Jones, who at the time were both working for major tech companies in the Bay Area. After finding themselves particularly frustrated and uninspired by a lack of diversity prevalent throughout Silicon Valley, the pair decided to utilize their resources and apply their business savvy to create a space for people of color to come together and cultivate community. Their vision to simply uplift one another has since become further reinforced and supported with every event they throw, with the brand serving major markets across the United States and abroad.
Today, the Toasted Life offers an array of services such as experiential events, live music experiences, professional networking, community service and talent booking, to name a few. With a passion for everything under the entrepreneurship, entertainment and tech umbrellas propelling the brand forward, Matt and Warren continue to find new ways to thrive in collaboration and encourage the professional and creative endeavors of others.
During a recent conversation with the DropLabs team, Matt shared more insight on the Toasted Life's mission, how surreal it has been receiving brand recognition in different markets globally and the importance of building tangible connections with one another.
What do you do for a living and how did you get started?
I'm the co-founder of a company called Toasted Life that I started about seven years ago with a colleague of mine who also went to school with me in Atlanta. Essentially what we do is we're an events and lifestyle brand. Our goal is to help bring people together through experiences, mostly young professionals of color. In a place like Silicon Valley, these are people working at the Facebook's of the world, or the Spotify's or the Twitter's of the world. We help create a safe place for Black and Brown people in those companies. So, whether that's at a large-scale party, a concert, a private dinner or doing trips abroad, we're trying to figure out what that glue is for people to connect.
Has your business grown to the point where brands are contacting you for advice on how to create more inclusive spaces?
Yeah, absolutely. We have a consulting component to our brand. Some recent work that might be surprising to some was with the SF Symphony. It's not the most diverse atmosphere, right? But there's a lot of great people of color that want to enjoy and experience different types of music. The symphony came to us wanting to figure out how to grow a more diverse and younger demographic for their brand, which is our niche and the community we serve, so we're helping them with that. We've also done work with Google, Airbnb, Martell, Pandora, Buick and Blavity, to name a few.
Do you have a distinct memory where it really clicked that you were meant to be an entrepreneur or that Toasted Life was going to grow so exponentially?
I think I had a lot of moments during our journey where it was like, oh wow, I think we're onto something here; we're creating something relatively unique and new. We hosted a party in Nairobi, Kenya and I remember two nights before our event, I was wearing one of our branded t-shirts. I was in an elevator at the hotel, and a guy started pointing to me and I could tell he's talking about the shirt. So, I'm getting ready to explain what Toasted Life is about and he was like, "I know about Toasted Life. I'll be there on Saturday!" It was like, wait, what the hell?! We're in this brand new market for us, it was our first time dabbling in this region and we're coming across people that have heard about us. It was just crazy.
Something similar also happened to another friend of mine who was wearing a shirt of ours while in Bali, Indonesia. We haven't done anything out there. My friend was walking out of a restaurant when a guy ran up to him and tapped him on the shoulder to ask, like, "What do you know about Toasted Life?" My friend was like, "Holy crap," [Laughs]. They started talking and stuff like that. There's definitely been moments like that where I realize the brand is definitely further than we initially anticipated and it's been a really exciting journey. Who knows where we'll be in a couple years.
What would be an accomplishment or a project that you're really proud of?
When starting the business, I was working in tech full-time and I never knew if I was going to be able to take Toasted Life full-time along with my co-founder. I started my career at Google and I was there for about five years. Then, I joined YouTube and did another three years. One of the biggest milestones for me was stepping away from my full-time job and stepping away from the stability and the perks of Silicon Valley. I've been full-time on Toasted Life for about a year now, and my co-founder has been full-time for about half that time. Going all in with our brand was a huge step for us.
As far as events go, one we're really proud of is a party we do with Blavity during Afrotech. At its peak working with them, the event had 3,000 people of color who are shakers and movers in the young professional world. To see the magnitude of that event and to witness the caliber of people that were in that room was quite a site. The event had people from all over the country who are all focused on progressing their careers but also having fun. It was really awesome to see that in real life and to see people's reactions to such an experience.
For more context about the programming you put together, what are some of the events you've curated?
It touches the full gamut, from the more intimate side of things to larger events. We'll do some trips where we'll take 20 or 30 people out of the country and each day have a different theme, like day one might be volunteering, another day might be networking, another day might be professional development and we'll tap some locals to expose the people on the trip to different things. We've done a trip to Tanzania, a couple in Ghana and some local ones like in New Orleans. We also do a series where we'll take people from our community and put them in the same room with a celebrity and provide the opportunity for there to be a two-way street with the featured guest talking about what they're passionate about and open it up so people in the room get a chance to contribute as well. Usually the celebrity is the one walking away with contacts at places like Instagram or Twitter that might be beneficial to them. We've done these meet and greets with Pusha T, Common, Wyclef, Mr Eazi, Estelle, and players from the NBA and the NFL.
What surprised you the most about trying DropLabs Technology for the first time?
When I heard about the product for the first time, it was so hard for me to wrap my head around it. You know, you see these dope sneakers that are super sleek and well-designed and it was just like, I knew I had to get my hands on a pair of those bad boys [Laughs]. My first experience was with pairing the shoes with music, which was kinda crazy. I'm a big enthusiast for music in general but it really got me thinking about how there's so many ways to engage with sound. I feel like DropLabs is really opening the door for people and expanding the ways that music is going to be played in the future.
What is one area in your life where DropLabs Technology could serve you well?
I could see myself when I'm trying to meditate, throwing these shoes on and using them to get my vibe right. I could see myself trying to watch a basketball game and feeling like I'm in those stands, like I'm right there in an arena.
Because we do a lot of events, I immediately started putting on my entrepreneur hat and thinking about how we could bring this technology to other people. For example, through our relationship with the Symphony, imagine if we were able to invite members from the local Deaf community to wear the shoes and experience the symphony for the first time. Or as another example, say we're doing a fitness class where we'd be able to put a pair on every person doing the workout with us and enhance the experience through it. I think there's a lot of entrepreneurial use cases for other businesses to adopt DropLabs Technology and a lot of different personal use cases. It's so early and I'm really excited to see where the technology is going to go.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience?
Droplabs shoes takes listening to music and puts it on steroids. It's another level of experiencing sound.
I'm really inspired by DropLabs in general because the company is out there innovating and inspiring people. People are gonna have a chance to take what you build and carry it forward or find these other use cases for it. It doesn't just stop with the shoe itself; it's a symbol of possibilities and that's really cool to see.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of bringing people together and operating the Toasted Life?
For me, yes, it's about creating experiences but it's about making them very memorable. We want people to walk away with the feeling of meeting dope people or the feeling of wanting to bring the moment along with them. We want people coming out to our events and then when they go back to work, they're bragging about what they did over the weekend. Or they're talking to a friend and sharing different nuggets or pieces of some of the stuff that we created for them.
Just giving people an opportunity to celebrate and champion life is really rewarding. I don't think we celebrate enough as people, right? Sometimes we kind of get hung up on negative things that are happening out there, or when we are celebrating, it's a really, really big one. There's a lot of daily wins that we should be celebrating, too. We're giving people an outlet to celebrate themselves and each other.
What is something you've learned from your entrepreneurial journey or something that sums up a mantra you've embodied along the way?
I'm a firm believer of just doing and creating, instead of waiting. I feel like people get in the habit of waiting for that perfect moment to release something or to try that idea out, versus starting with maybe a mediocre idea and over time getting it to that place where it's right. When you wait, sometimes you end up missing your chance. Either someone beats you to the idea or you could miss the boat all together.
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