Entrepreneur, business executive
While others pictured the American minority community on the deprived side of the digital divide, Darien Dash saw a clientele ripe for the marketing of Internet services. As founder and CEO of DME Interactive Holdings, Dash developed the first African American-owned Internet company traded on Wall Street. Through DME's subsidiaries, Digital Mafia Entertainment and Places of Color, Dash delivered less expensive hardware and software, developed customized Internet services, and played a significant role in training minorities to use the Internet. While still a young man, he modeled leadership skills for current and future African American entrepreneurs.
Darien Dash was born in 1972 in New York City to a family involved in entertainment. His mother Linda served as general manager of DME. His sister Stacey, probably best known for her role as Dionne in Clueless, has appeared in a number of television shows and movies. His cousin Damon chairs New York's Roc-A-Fella record label. His step-father Cecil Holmes, a Casablanca Records executive, played a major role in inspiring Dash to work hard and live ethically. Dash is married and has three children.
During Darien's childhood in Paramus, New Jersey, Linda Dash noted her son's penchant for marketing. She described her son to People as "always thinking of business schemes," often renting his toys instead of loaning them. Dash himself recalled for New York Times a turning point during his teen years: "In the space of two weeks when I was 18, my father died, and I was one of the first ones to find him, my dog died, my stepfather's house in Paramus burned down, my mother and stepfather separated, and my girlfriend, the woman who later became my wife, left me. I was either going to turn to ice, or have faith and make something of myself."
At the University of Southern California, Dash studied political science and leadership in the Emerging Leadership Program. He became president of the Black Student Union and participated actively in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. As a freshman, he started his own record company, Roc-A-Blok Records, specializing in hip-hop. New York Times states: "He made—and spent—$100,000 during his sophomore year of college when he and a cousin, Damon Dash, teamed up as managers and snagged inaugural record deals for the rapper Jay-Z and Original Flavor." But Dash wanted to continue his education, and during his senior year, he found himself influenced by the book Megatrends, which predicted future wealth for technology entrepreneurs.
Becomes Technology Entrepreneur
After college, Dash gained experience as a consultant on new media marketing for Fortune 500 companies. He worked his way to the position of eastern region marketing and sales director for Digital Music Xpress (DMX), a company that provided digital cable television with high quality music. Dash began to understand U.S. technology trends and developed a vision for marketing Internet services to minority clientele. He believed Internet access could improve the quality of life for American minorities, and he grew angry at the technology industry's reluctance to market its services to them.
Dash quit his job at DMX—on the day after his wedding—and started his own company in the couple's one-bedroom apartment in Hackensack, New Jersey. Money from a joint venture between Roc-A-Blok and Columbia Records funded the company's start-up in September 1994. Dash later told FSB: Fortune Small Business: "I thank God for my wife. She paid the bills that first year." In August 1995, Dash launched DME Interactive Holdings, with the mission to expand the hardware and software infrastructure within minority communities. He financed the company for the first four-and-a-half years.
Dash envisioned DME playing a key role in rewiring urban areas for digital Internet access and then becoming a major provider of content targeted for minorities. He focused particularly on providing music to the urban market. According to Contemporary Black Biography, Dash became "one of a handful of minority executives to venture into the new technology world at this level." To fund his goal, he initiated a consulting service, offering technology services to such groups as the New York Knicks, Lugz, and HBO home video.
When Dash wanted to take his private company public, Chris Kinsley, president of Manhattan's Mason Hill & Co. investment firm, suggested a reverse merger. In June 1999, DME acquired Pride Automotive Group. DME took controlling interest in the leasing company, gave its shareholders a minority interest in DME, and a new ticker symbol emerged on NASDAQ. Later that year, DME also acquired Kathoderay, a New York multimedia consulting firm, and opened an additional office in Manhattan. Dash made Kathoderay's CEO Kathleen McQuaid Packard the company's new senior vice president of interactive services. He hired his mother as general manager for a staff of around fifty people, mostly under thirty-five years of age.
- Born in New York City
- Launches DME Interactive Holdings
- Forms first African American Internet company to be traded on Wall Street
- Launches Places of Color; receives award for the Regional and National Technology Firm of the Year
Dash's marketing scheme seemed modeled after the hip-hop music industry. Using flyers, posters, stickers, and slogans like "Our thing is, get connected, get plugged in, or get shut out," he counted on the community itself to generate enthusiasm. The company's long list of clients included VISA, HBO, Motown Records, Def Jam Records, MSBET (joint venture between Microsoft and Black Entertainment Television), Microsoft, Reader's Digest, Otis Elevator, Queen Latifah, BMG North America, Sony Corp., SoSo Def Records, Maxwell, ABC Radio, Universal Records, and African Heritage Network.
Serves Community and National Ventures
In addition to commercial ventures, Dash brought technology to his local community. As technology chair of Harlem's school district 5, Dash provided thousands of New York students with access to computers. He served on the board of HEAVEN (Helping Educate, Activate, Volunteer, and Empower via the Net), a nonprofit venture helping black teenagers in New York learn computer skills. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "I think they've got all the advantages in the world. They have a better shot than any generation that's come before. The beauty of the Internet is it's colorless. There's no black and white." He also served as board member and mentor for Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools & Education (MOUSE). The two groups merged in 2000 under the name MOUSE.
Through his work with HEAVEN, Dash met America Online executive Ted Leonsis and engaged in a new venture. In 2000, Dash launched Places of Color. Partnering with AOL, the subsidiary of DME offered minorities a customized and less expensive version of AOL's CompuServe 2000 software. The service featured thirty channels, e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, news, and entertainment through 150 affiliate content providers such as the National Urban League and the Black Health Network.
The target audience included Hispanics, Native Americans, and rural whites as well as African Americans. Places of Color provided content, marketing, and advertising while AOL provided the connections and oversaw the business aspects. Dash focused on empowering people—minorities especially—through education, training, and job placement. He explained to Billboard, "We want people to learn how to use this technology effectively, so they can be successful and change their lives."
In 1999, Dash took part in a national summit sponsored by the Department of Commerce and hosted by Secretary of Commerce William Daley. Participants responded to the department's report, "Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide," which indicated that African Americans and Hispanics had far less access to the Internet than whites. That same year, the Department of Commerce named DME the minority technology firm of the year.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton asked Dash to accompany him on his third "New Markets" tour to seek ways to make the Internet more accessible to all Americans. Through this work, Dash met Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard CEO. In October, DME partnered with HP to sell low-cost computers with free Internet access to minority residents in New York and New Jersey. HP's general manager of e-services, Doug McGowan, told Time, "He's blazing a trail." But the success of dotcoms took a dive in the stock market, and Dash found it necessary to lay off half his staff. He still provided the computers but had to delay content development.
Awards and Service
The Department of Commerce named DME Interactive Holdings the 2000 Regional and National Technology Firm of the Year. Dash received the Network Journal's Y2K 40 Under 40 Achievement Award. New York Daily News named him one of "50 New Yorkers to Watch in 2000." Ebony magazine featured him in an article titled "Black Pioneers in the High-Tech World." Dash pointed out: "We've just scratched the surface, and if I've been able to help get people involved then I've been blessed and I'm fortunate."
As a pioneer and activist within the technology community, Dash has given speeches across the country. In 1997, he spoke for the B.A.M. (Blacks at Microsoft) Minority Student Day, the seventh event of its kind hosted by Microsoft. He also has participated in national forums such as the CEO Panel, hosted by Harvard Law School's Black Alumni, and the National Urban League's Youth Summit. In 2000, the Economic Opportunity Board invited him as guest speaker for its Micro Business Awards.
In 2002, Dash spoke at a town hall meeting, "Creating a New America," hosted by New York Representative Gregory Meeks. The forum focused on providing a chance for talking and healing in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Other speaking engagements included the Rainbow/PUSH Convention, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the White House briefings on the Internet and Technology. Dash has also testified before Congress's Small Business Committee on the Digital Divide.
Dash served on the International Advisory Board of Equal Access, a not-for-profit organization whose mission, according to their web site, "is to create positive change for large numbers of people in the developing world by providing critically needed information and education through locally produced and targeted content, the use of appropriate and cost-effective technology, and effective partnerships and community engagement." He also served on the boards of such organizations as Chess in Schools and the National Urban League. The University of Southern California, KIP Business Report, and the Abyssinian Development Corporation have granted him awards.
Dash told FSB: Fortune Small Business that he set clear priorities for his life: "God, my wife and three children, then work." Through his mission of empowering minorities with technology and providing education to use that technology, he has affected the quality of life for numerous Americans of many races.
Brennan, Carol. "Darien Dash." In Contemporary Black Biography. Ed. Ashyia N. Henderson. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2002.
"Black Pioneers in the High-Tech World: Crossing the Digital Divide." Ebony 55 (June 2000): 42-48.
Drummond, Tammerlin. "The Multimillion-Dollar Dash." Time 156 (4 December 2000): 123-24.
Finn, Robin. "Pulling For, and Pushing an Urban Internet." New York Times, 17 February 2000.
Gajilan, Arlyn Tobias. "The Web According to Darien Dash." FSB: Fortune Small Business 10 (October 2000): 90-94.
Mitchell, Gail. "New AOL Service To Tap Urban Entertainment Market." Billboard 112 (26 February 2000): 1-2.
"Net Profits: Entrepreneurs on the World Wide Web Find it Pays to Start Young." Cleveland, Ohio Plain Dealer, 19 January 2000.
Seals, Kimberly. "How I Did It: Closing the Digital Divide." Essence 31 (November 2000): 104.
Wulff, Jennifer. "Online." People 53 (15 May 2000):33-34.
Equal Access. http://www.equalaccess.org/ (Accessed 3 February 2006).