Today’s guest on #MWL is Clarence Bethea. We discuss entrepreneurship, venture capital, and startup accelerators.

We also talk about the current state of Black leadership in tech.

Where to watch live:

Get The Full Episode Transcription


what's good what's good what's good

happy tuesday another episode of marcus

whitney live

happy to have y'all back um i'm excited

about my guest today

because uh you know occasionally in this

world of being in startups

you know you uh you will sign up

for to be a customer of a startup you

know and

i bought a tv and I was looking at the

price of the warranty and I was like

um I want to protect it but I don't want

to pay that price

so I like actually like google how do

you actually get a warranty for

a tv and not have to get it directly

through the retailer and I found this

platform called upsc this was two years

ago when i

uh moved into my new house and um it was

the simplest thing ever went to the


hooked it up and then boom I had a

warranty and I was like super happy

about it

and so um you know two years later uh

one of my best friends in the world


uh I asked him hey man i'm looking for

great guests for the show you know i'm

looking for great founders great

um entrepreneurs innovators and he was

like yo my man clarence and then i

looked at him up and I was like yo this

is the ceo of upstate this is amazing

um so without further ado man let's

introduce my man clarence

the ceo of upsy what's government what's

up man 



hey what's up mark

thank you so much for having me on and

for being a customer 



man yeah man no

look the service is fantastic and uh you

know i'm

i'm happy to have you on and talk about

your story and how you got here

um so I did a fair amount of research

you know after uh

you know looking at your linkedin and

everything like that and and now

you know I want to hear more about your

story how you actually got this company

off the ground

and you were you were in a tech stars um

cohort so I want to hear about that so

you know catch us up man

how did you get to this point 



yeah man


you know I i tell off the story often

man i'm from decatur georgia which is

about 10 15 minutes outside of atlanta

um grew up there um and you know like

the whole you know for a kid that grew

up in decatur you kind of already know

the story

right like grew up you know hustling um

you know trying to survive i'm trying to

figure out what life is

i'm fortunate at the same time I was a

decent basketball player

um and that's what kind of got me out of

that environment when I was a young man

um but I was I was still knucklehead

when I left but I got up and

actually went to kansas to play juco


and uh didn't survive there because i

just had no discipline so I ended up

going back home to the streets

um just kind of jumped around like that

for a while um

and then um you know fast forwarding to

you know about like 2007-2008

um I met the former ceo of a fortune 500


um that kind of changed the trajectory

of my life

uh and gave me some um some really clear

indicators of what I could be with the

challenge that I had

you know from the streets growing up um

and and he instilled you know a sense of

confidence to me that I didn't have it


um and that that's kind of how this

thing you know started with me

how my life kind of started in this




okay so uh

first of all I love the fact that we

both went to college and we're not

mature enough to actually handle that


so so I feel you on that I feel you on


um talk to me about how you ended up

crossing paths with this fortune

500 ceo like how did that even happen

for you



yeah man actually I was at the time i

was coaching basketball

and doing sales for basketball academy

here in town

and um he brought his three kids his

three sons

to play basketball there wow um and it

was just kind of one of

these like you know you you do the right

thing for long enough

you know like once you get on that right

path you just say you know like

none of these right things are making me

money none of these things are really


forward but i'm gonna continue to do the

right things

and he noticed me out of you know a lot

of people in the gym he noticed me and

was like

i feel like you have something special

um and I want to be helpful

and and and that that's kind of what

changed my life 



wow that's amazing so

uh so let's let's go to the next step i

mean okay so so

now now you have somebody who's pouring

into you who's

who's you know you're not just going off

of internal now you're getting external

validation that that's serious but

what's the next step because it still

feels like it's a pretty long you know

jump from

there to ceo of a tech company that's

been up and running successfully for

multiple years now



yeah um so yeah a lot of it was was

learning you know

i often talk about being a voracious

learner like just like

like at any turn I want to learn it um

and and throughout about

nine and a half years of him mentoring


i remember times where I would go to his

house at like midnight

and be like hey man like I got questions

about this business book that I just


and I would keep him up to you know like

all kinds of night just asking questions


during that time it was just like a lot

of like harvard level

nba type learning over that time in the

real world

um and he told me when we first met he's

like man I see like one day I think

you're going to be a ceo of your own


and like you're going to be able to do

something special you're going to lead


um and it was just like breathing life

into me right like like you can do all

of these things

and um that's kind of what led me to you

know wanting to start upset because i

like I saw the problem

that we could solve and I was like well

now I got all the confidence I got all

the resources I know

you know I know what I need to do and

and I went and did it unfortunately

um you know it's it's uh yeah we're

still on five and we're still here



okay so so let's let's talk about what

upsea is give the elevator pitch and

then i'm gonna start to kind of dive


this industry because i'm fascinated

that you can even do this business

quite frankly right like that it's even

a possibility

so I want to get into the mechanics of

it but but let's

just let's do the uh elevator pitch what

is up c 




so yeah we've all gone to a big box

store you check out and somebody

should offer you a high price warranty

like you mentioned at the beginning of

the show

um but normally there's three things

that are happening one you're paying as

much as 900

more than you should um so to give you

example you're buying that tv for

for 900 and they will say hey the big

box store will say

hey for 130 for two years we can protect

that tv

where really that warranty only costs

ten dollars fifteen dollars from the

insurance company

um so we're like hey let's we can solve

that problem um two

there's no transparency so i'm guessing

when you were when they were offering

you the warranty they didn't tell you

what was covered or what not was covered

or here's what you need to do if you

need to make a claim they don't tell you

any of that

um and then three the the the biggest

problem is service so like knowing where

your warranty is and knowing where your

receipt is because you need your receipt

to make a claim so understanding like

all of that

they don't tell you any of that um and

so we wanted to solve those three

problems for

consumers um and and you know we think

we're doing it pretty well today



man those are those are really big


um because there there's there's

definitely different kinds of people who

make these kinds of

purchases at a at a big box store right

you know um

a tv a computer right you know what i


for me like i've set up my whole office

with you know audio visual stuff

so you know you make an investment in a

piece of equipment

you try for me I i try to spend that

little extra bit of money

and really take care of the thing and

for me part of taking care of it is the


period end of story but like when you

make that purchase for the warranty

that the tracking of the warranty is a


okay it is just a complete it's it's


different systems some of them you gotta

like email it in some of them you gotta


phone it in some of them you gotta mail

it in some of it is like an online forum

for some third-party website

that's you know you're going down all

these different drop-downs and stuff

like that

so talk about cause I think this is

really important 


I think a lot of people

 look at people like you, who have started

 a company right, and a they're like, “wow

 I don't even know how you knew that that

 could happen.” But be like... like talk about

 how the idea happened. Like how how did

 you get the idea and really start to go

 down the rabbit hole of understanding

 the industry, and the ins and outs and

 knowing how much overcharging, you know,

 these companies were doing, and how you

 might be able to buy

 and sell the same warranty and manage

 these warranties... like

 how, talk about that part.



Yeah so

 the funny story is, I was uh... this

 guy was mentoring me, and so the company was Best Buy, so

 Best Buy is the largest seller

 of warranties in the world. Like they

 they do billions of dollars a year in

 warranty sales.

 And so because of my relationship with

 him, I got a chance to see that industry

 behind the scenes.

 And so like I remember a question I

 asked him in the office, I said, “hey like

 why do you guys sell a warranty that

 costs $450...

 I mean that cost $50 for $450?”

 And I remember his answer, his answer was

 like very much about like the consumer

 being so stupid.

 Like we can charge this because it's on

 a $2000 laptop.

 Um and I remember thinking like well

 consumers are not that stupid, we're in

 the new age

 of technology where the internet is kind

 of all-knowing.

 Um and when I looked at the landscape, I

 was like, “everybody is trying to take

 advantage of the consumer...

 what if we can create something that

 didn't do that? What if we created


 that invoked your loyalty in the

 warranty?” And

 it was funny because people would say

 like warranties are not sexy, and I'm

 like, “no they're not meant to be sexy.

 What they are

 meant to be is to be there when you need

 it.” So if you break that tv,

 you gotta know that Upsie’s gonna be here,

 and we're gonna either replace it,

 we're gonna repair it, or we're gonna cut

 you a check so you can buy another one,

 right. Um and so we want to invoke that

 confidence with our

 customers. And so that's how I

 got started in it,

 like really trying to understand like

 why they did what they did. And then once

 I saw that

 the reason why they were doing what they

 were doing because of greed, I was like, “oh

 somebody needs to disrupt this.”



man that's awesome that's awesome so so

now let's talk about

steps from there uh and that was a great

story just knowing that you learned

about it from the same guy who inspired


to be able to do it like you know you

learned about the the industry

itself and you found the problem um and

i love that you're doing something that

actually looks out for the

for the consumer right I mean that's

that's like we need more

innovators out there looking out for the

consumer for sure um

but you know talk about the next steps

right I mean you

you are a graduate of of techstars and


for people out there who who don't know

um you know I i

i'm one of the co-founders of jumpstart

foundry we're a healthcare

innovation early stage fund we write

seed and series hx

but when we first started when jumpstart

first started in 2009

um we were an accelerator and we

actually got the playbook for how to be

an accelerator like literally david

cohen sent

us via email the playbook uh from


and this was before techstars was was

more than just in boulder this is when

they were just in boulder back then

so techstars is now you know one of the

top two accelerator brands in the world

um with with uh locations all over the


um and so to get into techstars is a


like important badge of approval you

know for an early stage startup

um so you were able to to get into tech

stars and graduate like talk about that




yeah techstars was amazing man like so

we we I never thought I would be able

to get in first of all and and simply

because like in our town

we didn't have any minnesota companies

in techstars so

every company that came here was from

out of town or from from overseas

um and so once we got in I knew for me

after the first week

that this was an education that there

was no amount of money or no amount of

equity that you could pay

to get this so while I had formal

business training

with the guy I was talking about before

what I didn't understand is like unit

economics and ltd and cac and

like all those things that go into the


and but I i knew that we had something

special and so when I got into techstars

then it was

it was like my mind was blown about

like how this program in 13 weeks could

teach you how to literally run your


um and it changed our company's


um and it changed my trajectory as a

founder because I i had all those um

all those like those skills that that

you can't teach yeah I didn't have

i didn't have like the founders ceo

skills and that's what it taught me



yeah and and you can learn those skills

i mean I think that's like super super

important right

um that's that's something I try to get

across in my book is that

there are there are so many people out

there who are likely to be

entrepreneurs based on their personality

and like their upbringing you know like

they're just they're just natural born

hustlers like they know how to sell

they they have the confidence they have

the willingness that they connect

selling with like food on the table so

they're not afraid of it you know of

like getting out there and getting it in

the mud

but but there's a whole school of

entrepreneurship that you don't have to

go get an mba program to understand

it's like you said the internet is like

king right so

you know you you can get this

information if someone's just

just willing to break it down make it


and create like a pathway for you you

can learn these things like anyone can

learn these things and technology in

particular once you

once you combine tech and

entrepreneurship you really start to get

into an area where um

there is much more opportunity but i

don't want to say the sky is the limit



I now want to turn the

 conversation to

 your experience as a black founder, a

 black tech founder,

 in venture capital, right. Because

 as someone who is on the side of the

 table -who writes the checks- I know

 about my industry. I know about my


 and (A) there's not enough

 venture capitalists who look like me, for

 starters, and (B)

 you know, my industry is not writing

 enough checks to

 people of color and women, right. So

 talk about how that experience has been

 for you, sort of post



Yeah so you know, so

 I think that when you look at

 like what's happening -and I'll be

 specific to Black founders, like

 like we're, I'm black so that's

 what I know-

 Like so Bradfield just put out a


 like last night where a founder... he had a


 on his blog speaking about

 how Black founders are judged

 differently than

 white founders. Like you

 expect to give me $2,000,000

 and you give this white founder $70,000,000

 and you expect us to

 have the same results?

 Right, and that's that's just not


 And you know, we all know the stats. Less

 than 1% of venture fund

 goes to African-Americans, and so

 like I think that just speaks to the

 problem. I asked a White VC a few

 weeks ago,

 I said 75% of dollars go to just White


 in tech. I was like, “is what you're

 telling me that White men are 75 times


 than… I just can't believe that.

 And so like you know, we got, we need

 more guys

 like you, you know, like cutting checks,

 right. Who

 have like real check cutting


 Yeah and not just like...

 I'm a partner, but I really don't get to

 make a decision.

 And we need,

 we need to invest in more Black women

 because the fastest growing

 business segment in this

 this tech thing, and they're killing it.

 I can name so manyBblack women founders

 who are killing it right now.

 And so like I just feel like

 I put that pressure on myself. And I say,

 “I gotta be... I gotta be the best,”

 right. Like I can't be average. I


 I got to know my numbers. I got to know

 my business, you know. I got to be

 you know the most crazy advocate for our


 And I got to control my controllables.

 But like,

 there there's obviously, there's a huge

 huge, huge, huge

 problem going on with with, you


 Black people trying to get

 money in tech. And

 really, I think it's so massive that

 like we are like 10-20 years away from

 it seeing it like seeing some type of


 But you know, I think it starts with

 guys like yourself, you know,

 we need more Black people with writing


 and understanding the problems. Like when

 I look at a lot of venture firms -and you

 talk about weave, like women's weave


 and how many people didn't understand

 Maven when it first launched.

 And it's like, but to you and

 I, it's like

 well of course because our mom, our


 like we know what they spent right. And


 we just we need more representation

 on your side of the table,

 and we need, you know, founders of

 color to continue to kill it.



yeah look I i agree and uh and that is

something I am working on

i am for sure working on it because uh i

couldn't agree more um

i think also you know that it's like the


is is only so much of it right you know

um you know I want to kind of go back to

the beginning of your

the sort of the the turning point in

your story which was meeting that person


mentored you and really like sponsored

you and shepherded you

to the point where you you were well


to launch the company get into you know

to get into tech stars and all those

kinds of things

um you know there has to be sponsorship


right you know what I mean and that

sponsorship often takes

either someone who's got an incredible

moral compass right where they

really are void of most prejudices

or someone who has an intimate knowledge

of what the person is going through and

what they're experiencing right and i

think that's another reason why you have

to have more black people on the check

writing side of the table

because the advocacy is going to be more

effective you know the understanding of

what needs to happen in order to help

this person be successful

is going to be more built in so um that

is a that's that's a big thing that we

we have to work on and

um i'm i'm working on it i'm going to

send you something like after this show

um I want your feedback on it's very

specific to health care uh because

in healthcare we've got even more issues

uh than even

the most you know the the standard

industries in tech but um but i'm gonna

send that to you anyway

let's let's let's keep chopping it up

man so um

you you mentioned quickly that you're in


um and that that evokes lots of feelings

for me right now

you know in 2020 um but I but I think


there's two places I want to go with

that one um

i want to just talk about what you have

seen uh

change at least in terms of the

conversation around

uh black tech founders and access to

capital you know there have certainly


many many things that have been

announced many discussions that have


you know I can just think of like nate

jones's fund uh at injuries and horowitz

you know um kobe and everybody over at

uh valence and like

you know the valence investor network

you know what's happening there

so there have been these announcements

there have been uh

things that are that are there's

certainly things that are happening

right you know jule burke just just

closed on on collab capital 50 million

um and I saw you were recently featured

in an article um you know talking about

this topic

but you also just said it's going to be

10 to 20 years before any like

meaningful change happens which I think

is a very sober honest look at it

because it is

it is a multi-generational thing right



But help me to sort of understand

 how you feel things have

 meaningfully changed just in the last

 90, 120 days. Like what have you


 change in, you know, that that's real?



Yeah I would say the biggest thing

 that's changed over the last

 -more specific since the George Floyd

 thing- so you know, we're looking at like

 six weeks ago.

 The thing that's changed the biggest

 is a conversation, right. Like...

 and the conversation used to just be you

 and I, right, because we were Black.

 Right well now what's happening, this

 conversation is moved

 to White people, to White VCs, to you

 know, all the way across the spectrum.

 And I think there's been a light shined


 like the problem in this country. Like

 the George Floyd thing, I -like again

 I grew up around crime and balance- and

 you know I’ve seen some things.

 I don't think for most of the world,

 they've ever seen a man

 die for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in

 front of them like that.

 And so that, and that has evoked

 conversation. I think people are like,

 “we need to have the conversation. We

 can't see that again.”

 You know, it's how they talk about how


 crack in the Black neighborhood is

 not really talked about, but the minute

 it hit

 the White neighborhood, everybody want to

 talk about it right. I think that's what

 happened. This has become like a


 in a human's right problem. So I think

 the biggest thing that's changed is

 just the conversation that we can... like

 more for even if you're

 you're on Twitter. Like the conversations

 are happening

 openly on Twitter that I don't think

 would have happened 8 weeks ago.

 It has been awesome to see.




 take that to a more personal level

 because, you know, one thing I know

 is that there are so few of us

 in positions of power

 in tech. And I consider you to be in a

 position of power as a CEO of your own

 company, right. Like you know,

 you know there are so few of us in

 positions of power

 in tech that I'll... you know for me ,my


 the week after you know

 everything really sort of went down in

 Minneapolis right,

 was I got all these inbound calls, you

 know, specifically from White men

 who are in positions of power who know

  1. And it's like

 I’m the closest Black person they know

 right. And so they're calling me to

 kind of

 be like, “are we really that far apart?”

 You know what I mean? Like is this really


 “tell me Marcus, like like how serious is

 this?” You know, did you get those calls?




 I bet you that first week, week and

 a half I spent more time

 fielding those calls than I did working

 on Upsie. It was...

 I mean it was emotional. It was

 like literally, I would hang up the phone

 and another call would come from

 somebody who wanted to talk. And

 it was at first, I think it

 was great.

 For me I was like, “man like this is cool.”

 Like people are seeing a problem,

 but then you know, you turn around and

 you're like, “well I haven't worked on my

 business in a week.”

 Like I haven't I haven't been there for

 my team in a week.

 You know, they're emotional because

 they're led by a Black founder, so

 they're feeling my pressure, right, every

 time we get on the phone call.

 And so like I just finally got to the

 point where I was like, “hey man, you need

 to go

 read ‘White Fragility’ and and start

 there again” you know. Then I think

 you'll learn what you need to learn. But

 I mean it was

 just like you man. Like it was non-stop

 for about two weeks.


yeah man yeah okay I just wanted to make

sure like I was having an experience

that was that was a shared experience


man that that first that first week and

a half it died down after about a week

and a half but that first week and a

half boy

that was like it was intense it was


it was so so now let's let's let's maybe


to the other topic around minneapolis

which was

um man your city has been through a lot

you know

it has been uh in many ways the

epicenter of change

for the country that you know this will

go down in history books

for a long time but as you said we're

only six weeks out it's crazy that we're

only six weeks out I mean like

you know time is weird right now for a

lot of reasons

and I can't really wrap my head around

the fact that it's only been that long

uh but man that makes me wonder even


you know given all of the uh the changes

that your city has gone through man how

how are things in minneapolis you know

you're minneapolis is not in the media

sort of story of the moment right now

you know we're talking about the rise in

coronavirus and a lot of stuff about

around the

the political race and things like that

you know what's what's happening in

minneapolis now in

in this aftermath 



yeah yeah a lot of


is is like we're trying to heal as a


um you know our neighborhoods have been

you know burnt down our city's been

burnt down

um grocery stores have been burnt down

and if you think about your life today

like you can probably walk out your

house and within 10 minutes be at a

grocery store to stock your fridge

um and those communities can no longer

do that um so we've

been doing you know everything that we

possibly can

to help those people so you know taking

groceries to the city to the people

right like buying diapers taking them to

the city

feeding the city like everything that we

can do to be engaged with the city

um we've been trying to do um you know

people are hurt man like

again like there's something like this

happening and it's not you know just

being a black man

like this ain't the first time this is

this has happened

i think this is just the first time this

has happened it's such like a loud

like like literally there couldn't have

been a louder way for this to happen it

just so happened to happen

in minneapolis um so like we are the

city's still a little bit on edge

right we don't edge because like you

already know the game like

okay so you arrested them you know you

charged him

now he's the final piece like would they

be convicted uh and so the city

i think the city will be on edge until

those conviction comes through

um what I can say and I say this you

know and I hope i'm wrong knock on wood

but if they don't get convicted I think

we're going to see another

uprising and we're going to be bigger

than what we saw before 




look man I don't I don't think there's

any question about that um

you know I think you'd have a lot of

people betting alongside you on that

and um you know because

it just uh it it would just make people

feel like there is no justice you know

we all watched it so there's nothing to

right you know what I mean like there's

no excuses there's no

there's no alternative judgment to come

down with right you know what I mean

it's like uh yes they've been arrested

yes they've been charged and now that

you're right the final piece is the

conviction and

and um you know I i I hope and pray for

your city and quite frankly for many

more I don't I don't think it'll be

limited to minneapolis should should

that decision

be incorrect you know I i agree I think

that's going to be

nationwide uh you know uh oppressed

uh unrest and upheaval uh no question

you know no questions

i I agree if this doesn't go the way


it the way it should go

well but i'll be even more specific here

if this doesn't go

the way that it would go for you and i

right if we had done that

right right right if it doesn't go that


right then we we have a problem because

i think

you and I both know if that was you and

i oh dude right

we would already be guilty it would be

done that case would be

that case would be done yeah yeah yeah


i think that's what that's what we want

right like we just we just want it we

want the same

justice that you would put on us yeah

yeah and also like

because it's all been captured on film

justice like it's just justice right

it's just like what

what needs to happen right it's just

what needs to happen

so so man um you know look I i know uh

i I know this for a fact because I have

recently spoken to um

the students at kenzie academy which is

a great tech tech school

um you know that has a very very strong

focus on

uh you know teaching diverse populations

about uh technology to help them achieve

economic mobility

a lot of people that have picked up my

book you know like I know there are so

many people who

right now are in this moment where man

the economy is

really weird there's so much

unemployment and you know

i know that entrepreneurs um especially

tech entrepreneurs

we are experiencing something very very

different right because the internet is

still up and running you know what i

mean an e-commerce is still happening


and so what encouragement would you

would give for people who

are you know are are trying to lean into

their optimism but also

you know are probably a pretty long way

away you know maybe they're in the

position where

where you were when you were just

coaching basketball you know what I mean

what would you say for people who

are trying to kind of navigate things

and figure out you know how they're

going to

um be able to participate in this in

this world that you and I live in

yeah so first thing I would say is lean


to those feelings like I don't think

there's nothing wrong with being scared


and not knowing your path um

and I would go back to my situation

finding a mentor

somebody that you that believes in you

morning you believe in yourself because

that's what's happening right like you

you really you're not super comfortable

you don't understand what you need to do

um and I would say like go out and be

uncomfortable not actually go out

because of corona but

like like like find yourselves in in in

rooms and zoom rooms that you don't feel

comfortable in

um and connect with people I think the

world like nobody gets to where they

need to get to without help

like we're all at every step you know

like you

you you are you are a step and a part of

my journey right and like when I look at

that I look at every person as like this

person is on this journey with me

and I need to be able to respect that

and so go out and try to find those

people and be active

about it and that's where I would start

that's that's great guidance and a great

note to leave on so everybody out there

um first of all like you need to learn

about this company

like if you care about warranties like i

do and I even need to like go back and


re-engage with this company because it

really does solve so many problems and


you know follow this guy man this guy is

an inspiration what he's doing is

is really really meaningful and he's

blazing trails for

many many other you know people of color

who are

seeking to leverage technology and to be

their own ceos not just to

you know code in those companies but to

lead those companies so

like I said follow him clarence

underscore bethea on twitter

you can find them on linkedin and that's the company clarence

thank you for being here my man

um really really appreciate it uh

everybody y'all know I got the book

creaton orchestrate

out now you can buy it on amazon you can

buy it at my site go

check it out

the podcast marcus whitney's audio

universe everywhere that you get

podcasts go

go grab it go subscribe I need those

downloads to grow grow grow

so please go subscribe um and follow me

online everywhere at marcus whitney

that's it

uh we will be back tomorrow with another

episode of marcus whitney live i

appreciate y'all let's build the new


peace thank you for tuning in to

marcus whitney's audio universe

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