Proud to Be: Fireside Chat
Afroflare UK BHM Fireside Chat hosted by Fallon Blossom with Teddy Phillips Founder of Ark Creative Company, For the Culture app, and We Are For La Cultura app.
Hello Cloudflare TV and happy UK Black History Month. My name is Fallon Blossom, and I'm the Senior Strategic Programs Manager of this year's broadcast, Cloudflare TV.
I'm also the former lead and current member of Afroflare, our employee resource group for folks of African descent and their allies.
If you turned into Cloudflare TV last fall, or if you've been watching the fireside chats that we've been putting on this month, you've seen some knowledge shares and some really interesting conversations with folks who are working in this space and are proud to be in our culture.
So now we're doing the proud to be speaker series with Teddy Phillips.
So please tell us more about you. Hey, I'm Teddy Phillips from Montgomery, Alabama.
Grew up in love with tech and just in love with just black culture growing up.
BET was my favorite station to watch and tune in. I love the box.
I love music. So just just being embraced in that, especially with my strong southern roots.
I sat in Afrotech and I wanted to learn more about it. So I went to college, majored in management information systems to to further figure out what I wanted to pursue in life.
Ended up building a few iPad applications for Procter & Gamble in the Home Depot.
And then from there, ended up starting a cybersecurity career at HP.
And that brought me here to where I'm at now. I'm a senior program manager for cybersecurity at Microsoft.
But in my personal endeavors, I created a game called For the Culture, which celebrates black history and black popular culture within a gaming app.
So it's a trivia game that that kind of dives deep into the black experience and allows us to guess and pull things from my childhood.
From there, I expanded into the Latinx market with For La Couture, which we also released.
And now I'm working on a trivia game called What the Zodiac.
So, yeah, it's been a great experience, just merging tech and gaming. And, you know, I'm happy to be on Cloudflare with Violence to share that with you all.
Yay, wonderful. So, yeah, actually, let's let's go back to the root, pulling from the root, as we say.
So you're from Montgomery and I was doing some research on you and I hear that your grandfather was a huge inspiration.
So I was raised by my grandparents.
So I'm a grandma's girl, like your grandpa's boy. So tell me more about the influence of, you know, growing up in the South.
Again, I'm also Southern from New Orleans.
How did that impact you? How did that inform your path and like where you are today?
Totally. My grandfather, he was a very resilient man.
He marched with Martin Luther King and Bloody Sunday. And he really had a strong passion for just being yourself and not being afraid to be yourself and stand up for the things that you believe in.
And, you know, just growing up in the South, it was people like want to think it's like super, super racist.
But in Montgomery is segregated. So you don't really you're kind of shielded from certain things.
And you don't really realize that until you like really hit the real world because you're kind of in a bubble in your different part of the city.
So from there, you know, just being proud of who you are, being proud of your background and just not being ashamed of that and going for what you believe in.
Not not being the best that you could and pretty much everything.
And then knowing sometimes you have to be better than good to get half.
So, yeah, no huge inspiration.
I miss him to this day. Oh, yeah. And I lost my grandpa about 10 years ago.
Actually, Halloween. And so, yes, we feel that loss often, but we we hold them in our heart.
So, yes, still kind of getting into your origin story. What was your first big dream?
Was this was art? Was it the tech stuff? Like, yeah. Yeah, no, it wasn't.
I think I wanted to be a basketball player. First, Michael Jordan was my idol.
Think then baseball. It was definitely sports first. Then I wanted to be a rapper at one point.
And I was like, OK, you're decent at sports. You probably aren't the best rapper.
You know, let's let's let's try something else. So I went to college, went to University of Alabama to play to play football and then football didn't work out.
So, you know, I just had to figure out how to figure out like, you know, what did I actually want to major in to actually build a career?
So Nick Saban at the time would transition as the coach.
He said, like, when you leave this place, be the best in whatever you set out to do.
And just seeing him just go up to the. The practice facility every day at seven o 'clock, leave at 10 o'clock and then get up the next day and do the same thing over and over again.
I knew he was super passionate about what he was and he became the all time winningest college coach in college football history.
So just seeing that type of passion and being around that type of greatness kind of pushed me to excel outside of the football field.
Like you said.
Well, we know Nick well at LSU. You know, you talking to somebody from New Orleans, so, you know.
Yeah, we love Nick.
We love Nick. I didn't even realize that that was going to be a connection.
Yeah, it's only TV. No, no more. Oh, my gosh. I forgot about that. I got rid of him.
Again, that's another segment for another day. We can talk football another day.
And so tell me more about this career path.
So, like, I'm going to try to see if I get all your splashes right.
Right. Like you're an engineer. You're a program manager.
You're an artist. There's a beautiful art behind you that I'm definitely going to talk to you about.
You're a developer. You're an entrepreneur.
Is that everything? Five? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Human being. Yeah.
I'd say I'm a creator.
I'm just just all out. If I see something or I envision something, I just like to try to figure out how to build it and put it out there and see it.
I'm not saying I release all my artwork, which, you know, is a personal hurdle that I have to get over.
The sharing artwork is kind of personal. So, you know, you hope everyone likes it as much as you do.
So that's an insecurity that I have on my part that I'm working to fix.
So especially trying to inspire others to release their artwork.
But, yeah, so I got into artwork around the same time.
Well, I was always an artist just doing like painting stuff. And I took art class and I won an art competition when I was in the fourth grade.
I just got reminded of that.
But sports took over and then I reconnected with art when I was building these apps.
So you had to you got the right code. But if it wasn't beautiful, people wouldn't interact with it.
So from a UI, UX standpoint, you had to figure out how to beautify that.
So that's when I got back into Illustrator and Photoshop and just trying to figure out how to connect those.
Yeah. So from there, just on my app journey, I didn't really I wasn't really focused on apps.
I was focused on like cybersecurity.
But it was game night in Houston. So people used to connect and we used to play taboo and we used to play charades.
But there wasn't really a black game at the time that we could actually just whip out and play.
So I fell in love with Ellen's Heads Up and there was a hip hop category that I took home and we were just playing that over and over again.
I'm like, there's so much more content that it could be in this.
I was like, you have some app design skills. You have some app development skills.
Why don't you create a game? So I committed to it.
I was like, OK, I'm the only person that plays this game. I'll enjoy it. But I was like, OK, let me just build it.
So that gave me the confidence to build it. So I built it and I had this super at this idea of being super minimalistic.
And it was just going to be words and sex boxes.
And that was pretty much it. So I built everything.
I gave it to my friends and I'm like, is this done? I was like, yes, it's done.
Now, where are the graphics? You've got to have graphics. You've got to have some emotion in it.
And I was like, I don't know. So I came back and I went back and I listen.
I read the Lean Startup. So with the Lean Startup, build a minimal viable product, give it to people, give their feedback, then go back and iterate so you can't iterate anymore.
And that's what I did. So I just trusted the people that gave me feedback, got outside of myself, started creating art.
So I wanted to jump up artwork for the for the game.
And I went category by category trying to pull out unique things from black culture to put into this to give the game some type of emotion.
From there, I started getting more positive feedback. So when I released it, it was it was an amazing feeling.
First, I was in D.C. at the Apple Lounge when I got the notification from Apple that it had hit the App Store.
And then I stopped the whole thing, told the DJ, we're just going to play the game.
And it was crazy.
So that sent it created like a ripple effect. So these people shared it with other people.
And from word of mouth, it started growing on its own. So, I mean, that was a that was an amazing feeling.
It was a journey of growth, of trying to build a product.
So it was fun. How long has it been out? When did that happen? It's coming up on five years, January 3rd.
It's been it's been around for five years. Almost at a million downloads.
So so hopefully, you know, this holiday season, it'll get us there.
I'm going to say I just downloaded it. So you're one step closer.
Actually, can we play? Do a quick round. Yeah, for sure. I'll tell you what. Let's say we turn around.
OK. I'll call out pick a category. I'll tell you what. Yeah, I'm like, I need to know the categories.
Let's do black history. Let's do black history.
Avoid that so much. OK, avoid it. Let's do music. Let's do music. You want to do music?
Yeah. Yeah. All right, cool. Do I have to turn around now? Yeah, turn around.
OK. Oh, um, Seba's left eye in? Chili. Boom, got it. That's it? So, so that made you cream.
I cheated the bread. I turned around. You got to tell me.
Oh, my gosh. He's been he's been from from the community. He's an R&B singer from R&B singer.
Oh, R. Kelly. Yeah. All right. Sorry about that one. He blew the he blew the trumpet.
Yep. Oh, my gosh. One of the best rappers that ever lived. Oh, oh, oh, oh, Tupac, Tupac.
Producer Tupac beats by. Oh, Dre, Dre. Oh, man. The Illini.
Nah, nah. Nah, that was Foxy. Oh, can I turn around? You got six. You got six.
It was amazing. Yeah, I feel accomplished. Embarrassing. I need to take that one out.
Well, OK, bug bug report. But, you know. Well, that's how you iterate and you keep iterating.
Oh, man, that's a bit. But it happens.
That was really fun, though. OK, so that's basically how it works. You pick a category and you have.
How long was that? A minute? It was like a minute. Yeah.
So you have a minute to answer it as soon as possible. It felt like 10 seconds. Six out of how many?
Again, I'm type A. I'm like, I want to win. I'm competitive. I'm like, I want them all.
Yeah, you got everything. Got everything. You don't have enough time.
Yeah, that's amazing. Yes. Good. I got an A. I feel good. So, OK, we talked about like the building process.
So what made you think, well, we just wrapped up Latinx or Hispanic Heritage Month on October 15th.
What made you go from, you know, working with stuff for black folks to working on stuff for Latinx folks?
What inspired that? Just sharing the same commonalities. So I took for the culture home and I was playing with some of my homies and they were like, well, what are you making for us?
And I was like, what do you mean? Like, yeah, I mean, man, like we got a whole culture and stuff like that.
So they took me home and I just embraced myself in, you know, Latinx culture.
And they were like, yeah, I think I think we need a game just like for culture.
So I was like, OK, cool. The infrastructure is built.
All we have to do is change the content and put the put different graphics in it.
So one of the games we played was Lotteria. And I just saw like the images on like the cards that they were playing.
I was like, oh, my gosh, we can definitely use this as a theme like throughout a full-on couture.
Yeah, I mean, I think it's a good idea.
So I just let them build it. And I was like, OK, cool.
I'm just going to support, help produce. But, you know, I don't want to make this game.
I want you all to make this game and make sure it reflects your culture.
So they were like, all right, cool. So built it. It took about a year to test it and put it out.
And it's been amazing just the response. So, you know, a lot of people feel seen and I'm happy to be in a position to be able to create experiences like that for people.
So I'm definitely just and creating the game. I saw a lot of similarities between black people and the Latinx community.
And, you know, it kind of just furthered my vision or just idea of the world that we're more alike than we are different in the community.
So it was a great experience building up.
Yeah, I look at I refer to them as cousins. Like I call people cousins.
Like I'm like, all right, if we call them cousins, we related somewhere. That is real.
That is real. So I'm curious about the content piece, because, you know, when it comes to people's culture, right.
Appropriation versus appreciation is a very thin line. And no culture is a monolith.
Neither the black culture nor the Latinx culture is super diverse, super interesting.
So how as a content person, I'm super curious about, like, how do you I mean, again, we know our Kelly got to go.
But like, all right, it's easy to cut people out for whatever reasons.
But like, how do you feel confident or like how did you know what to put in and what made it feel right?
So I had a list. So I had a share drive of like all the categories up and I sent links to all the content.
And I just had like 10 different people, three people from different age groups segmented, just like a marketing kind of does.
And I had them just agree on the content like.
So, of course, across that different spectrum of people, age groups is not going to be like one list or whatever.
So what I saw the content as something that's relatable, something that, you know, is something that you can be educated on.
So like my grandma knowing who Cardi B is or like my little cousins knowing who Louis Armstrong is and things like that.
So they're like, oh, my gosh, OK.
Yeah, this is probably near. So some of the samples that you're listening to came from these artists.
And, you know, it's just not new music. So that was another thing like like every year it never feels like my cousins think it's like this super, super new song.
Like not knowing it was a sample from a song that came up when when my parents and then they hear the original and they're like, what, what?
They know they stole her music and I'm like, oh, man, this is a way long before you were born.
It's like there was a world before the 90s. Millennials just want to say that there was a whole universe.
A hundred percent. I was like, what is always a funny thing, especially during the holidays.
So, yeah, so that piece.
Oh, no, I'm definitely busting this out. I usually host Thanksgiving and when my family's here, we definitely plan this for sure.
I might have some more notes for you after I put it in front of my grandpa.
Please hand them over. So what challenges have you experienced kind of trying to navigate all your slashes, all your passions and kind of growing in your career?
Yeah, it's finally the time, finally the time to dedicate to pretty much everything adequately and just know I'm going to take a break.
So, you know, trying to push an app and respond to changes in my art and then, you know, manage a full time career and then just manage the sanity in between.
I mean, yeah, I try. I try the ball in a few places.
But, you know, just being able to be around to keep pushing everything again.
You know, I believe everyone deserves a break and we have to allow ourselves grace.
And I used to be like this person that's like, nah, grind, grind, grind, grind.
And now I'm just like, OK, just do what makes you happy. Make sure you hang on to your commitments.
Make sure you stay solid as a person and, you know, just move at your own pace.
You know, it's not it's not a it's not a race like like a lot of people try to make it seem, you know, it's it's your own pace.
You're not racing against him.
You're just trying to be better than you were the next day.
So that's why I stay safe. Yeah, no, that's a word. Put that on like a T-shirt or something.
And outside of, you know, building these amazing apps, like what other successes have you experienced?
Like what have been some other really great like, yeah, I did that moments for you.
Oh, man. I think creating a piece for Jackie Robinson's family that he was such a pioneer.
He was such a inspiration to a lot of people, just breaking the color barrier and in a widely dominated sport and just having the bravery to do that.
So when I connected with them and we collaborated on the piece, I was like, oh, my gosh.
And their response to it was was overwhelming.
I almost cried. I was like, OK, cool. You know, you know, we're starting to starting to get somewhere.
So that was that was a pretty fun piece to do.
Well, speaking of art, talk me through what you got going on back there. So we're all up in everybody's houses these days.
We have one of my favorite rappers, Tupac, Rest In Peace.
I did that piece. So before I did this, I was trying to create, before I released my art under Statham Artists, I created a lot of pieces for for the culture, just for the content on the page.
And so I wanted to highlight people through like Black History Month.
And so I started creating this series of pieces. So, yeah.
So we have Tupac right here. We have Kobe, Rest In Peace. And over here we have LeBron James.
And there we have the third, the anniversary for the third, third year that photo culture was in existence.
I need to refresh that since year five is coming up.
Yeah. Oh, that's so cool. And wait. And did I hear this correctly?
Or like you don't have any formal art training or do you? I don't want to misspeak.
Elementary art classes. Yeah. But yeah, most of it came from just researching YouTube, researching processes of painters like Damien Hirst, Kehinde Wiley.
It was amazing. And then just looking at the colors. Yeah. And then just looking at the colors of Petra Erickson, who is super underrated.
And then just understanding how they produce and just coming back to my sanity.
It's understanding Damien Hirst has like a team of 200 artists that he has a vision in.
He's like, OK, here's what I want.
Here's what I want. Here's what I want. And he has like a factory of people producing artwork for him.
Same thing with Kehinde. Kehinde has an art studio in Hong Kong that he has like up to 10 artists.
And I was trying to figure out how do you scale up for shows and things like that?
And I think there was someone that was against him put out something.
It was like, you know, he doesn't really do all this.
He doesn't really paint everything. He said, yeah, I'll own that.
You know, I don't. My hand isn't on everything, but my vision is a part of everything.
So he sees himself as more like a company, right, of that. And then he has the idea to create the art.
And that's a common theme that I saw across like a lot of artists.
They have like they're the vision. They're the top of the pyramid and everything else comes in and connects the vision and it shines bright from the top.
So understanding that allowed me to invest in some other artists that probably had the skill, but lacked the passion to do the art, but wanted to make extra money.
I was like, well, here's my style. Here's how I do things and things like that.
And just going back to sanity, I don't have time to knock out every piece of art, but I do have the vision for everything.
So 10 hours here, 10 hours here, split up across like different artists could allow me to create a project at a full time scale while doing my other projects.
So, so, so that that's another thing.
So investing in people, too, and then just not being afraid to give away your secrets to grow and still commit to your purpose.
So, yeah, so we're at development, right?
It's like, I don't know if this person is going to take my idea and run off with it, but you have to trust in other people to make sure that your vision gets completed.
Well, and I think in yourself, too. Like that takes a level of vulnerability and risk and confidence that you kind of have to have that, like, I will give you the recipe, but your cake ain't going to taste like my cake.
100%, 100%. Yeah, for sure. Now, that's that's a word. I give you the paper.
I mean, I also watch a lot of Great British Baking Company and those technical challenges are super intense and I can see they have the same amount of ingredients, the same paperwork, but the output looks very different.
I don't know if you watch that show, but it's good.
Absolutely. So tell me more about this next app. Like, astrology is all the way.
I know I'm on all the apps. Everybody's talking about FaceTime.
So you're working on something for that? Yeah, Zodiac. Yeah, so it's a it's a it's a card game based on the zodiac signs.
And it's basically like, I don't know if we can mix Cards Against Humanity with the zodiac signs.
That's basically what it is.
So what sign would be what sign is two hours away, but will tell you that they're about to pull up?
Oh, are you asking me for real? Should I? Do you have an answer? No, no, no.
I will answer. I'm going to say a Virgo.
Oh, no. Oh, hold on. Time out. Am I canceled? Oh, man. Hold on.
What is a Virgo done to you? No, I think I'm like a Virgo somewhere in there. I think a moon.
I think I'm a Virgo moon. It's me. Okay. So if it's not a Virgo, the other like my main one is a Sagittarius.
It might be right. So, yeah. So, so the prompt would be that and then you would have six people to have answer cards and the most popular answer wins.
And if you lose, then you then if it's your son, you got to take a point back.
So that's how it works. Wait, are you a Virgo? Did I just offend you?
I'm sorry. Oh, okay. Real bad. No. All right. What I do know about Virgos, apparently, again, according to the apps, I'm not an expert.
Is that like order putting things in boxes, just like having things organized?
Beyonce is a Virgo?
Yeah. Yeah. Kobe's a Virgo. Yeah. Kobe. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. All right. Once that's done, we're going to have to have you back.
Actually, we need to have you come back and play all these games.
On Cloudflare TV. We can do a game night on Cloudflare TV.
That'd be awesome. I'll be open to that. Yeah, totally. That's fun. Yay.
So, okay. Outside of this new app, are there any other goals or big things that you're working on?
Consistency. Just staying consistent and putting out that and then expanding outside of just the app and the game experience into like other products.
So, like for the culture, turning for the culture into a brand outside of just being an app and just trademark for the culture and clothing.
So, yeah, just having items that represent blackness and identify blackness.
Same thing with Full Local Tour.
Just branching that out into just empowerment for other people.
So, just having something that says for the culture, like a coffee mug in your office or something like that to money.
Honestly, I could see it totally being an in-person thing because I know about like the trap yoga and the track karaoke and stuff like that.
Once we can actually hang out again, I would go to, if you hosted a For the Culture thing in Austin, I'd be there.
I'd go. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
That's definitely in the works. Yeah. So, like a tour like that, like a virtualized game show.
So, yeah. We're excited about that. Okay. So, we only have like two minutes left and I have two more questions.
So, if we can get them down to a minute and then leave some time for you to plug all your stuff, that'd be dope.
So, question number one is, what advice would you give to your younger self or people who are watching this and inspired by you and kind of want to do what you do?
Don't overthink, which is the hardest thing. It starts your growth. And then just have the confidence that everything is going to work out and you will be okay.
No matter what. I felt that. That was good. And again, the theme, proud to be.
So, Teddy, what are you proud to be? I'm proud to be an artist. I'm proud to be in tech.
Proud to be in cybersecurity. Proud to be in gaming. And I'm proud to be black.
And I'm proud to be from Alabama and sort of made it out and had good parents and a good upbringing.
So, I'm proud of all that. Proud of everything that makes me me.
Felt that too.
And okay. So, now you have a minute and a half to plug all the things.
Where can people find your work? If they want to connect with you, we got to get them downloading this app.
What else? Totally. So, yeah. Teddy Phillips on LinkedIn.
Senior program manager at Microsoft. Stat the artist on Instagram. For the culture app on Instagram.
We are for local tour on Instagram. And what the Zodiac on Instagram as well.
So, trying to expand other platforms. But, yeah. Everything day by day.
So, we'll get there one day. Yay. Awesome. All right. Well, folks.
That was another Fireside Chat. Sponsored by Afroflare. Part of the Proud to Be series.
We might hit you with one more. Stay tuned. Next week. But, yeah. Thank you for tuning in.
Keep watching Cloudflare TV. Go download these apps and have fun and play games with your friends.
Thank you. Have a great day. Bye-bye. Bye -bye.
Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.
Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye -bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.