Culture, Leadership and DEI Matter in Startups

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Culture, Leadership and DEI Matter in Startups

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Donald Thompson is a serial entrepreneur, investor, board member, thought leader, author and podcaster—just to name a few. You might even know him from his leadership column in WRAL TechWire.

That long list of things, though, can make it easy to forget that the people we learn about and look up to are just people, too. And, when Donald goes to bed each night, he’s not thinking about all of his successes; he’s asking himself who he’s helped that day.

“Have I done the best I can with the blessing of that day?,” Donald asks himself. 

And after he answers that question, he dreams of what he’ll chase the next day.

“Ultimately, I'm down for the adventure,” Donald said. “I'm looking for the next project to chase. I'm looking for the next opportunity.”


These days, though, Donald is more into helping facilitate other entrepreneurs’ dreams. After growing iCubed and selling its technology to Adobe; creating a spin-off company, ICI Digital, and having a successful exit; joining and growing digital advertising agency Walk West as the CEO; founding the diversity, equity and inclusion agency, The Diversity Movement, and being the CEO of two companies at once for a few years before stepping down at Walk West; it’s safe to say he’s got a lot of advice to give.

“One of the things that I have done well,” Donald said, “is I've always been a really avid leader. I've always been someone that wanted to listen to folks’ experience. I could do something faster, better, if I could listen. Learning from experience is just so much more painful.”

But a lot of what he’s learned about business came from his experiences as an athlete.

“I was always used to being coached,” Donald said. “So the short answer is, I got good at networking, developing mentorships for things where I was lacking, and I stayed open to be able to do that.”

And, throughout his time networking, building relationships and working with clients, Donald saw a problem.

“We would look at the videos companies constructed and were like, ‘Wait a minute, are your clients all white?’” Donald said. “And they're like, ‘No,’ it's like, “But your video only has white people in it, right? is that what you want?’”

He said most clients would be shocked, saying that it wasn’t what they wanted, but they hadn’t even realized it had happened. He found a lane to fill: a DEI company that would encourage businesses to learn and grow in accepting their coworkers and representing all consumers in their brands, one that worked harder to do more than a half-day diversity training, one that listened and educated without judgment—The Diversity Movement.

In the last 18 months, the company has gone from zero clients to over 100. They’ve created a global footprint, right here from the Triangle.

“If we respect everybody's center of authenticity,” Donald said, “some people it might be their sexual orientation, some people it's their race, some people it’s their religion, but we all have core sets of beliefs, core sets of things about us where we look at the rest of the world through that lens as a dominant perspective. The goal is not for me to change your center of authenticity, the goal is not to dismiss it, but to understand you better by hearing.”

And that’s the biggest theme of Donald’s episode, listening, and you can listen to his full episode of the Founder Shares podcast below or wherever you like to listen and learn more from Donald.


The blog content should not be construed as legal advice.

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