Dash, Darien 1972(?)–
Darien Dash 1972(?)–
Visionary CEO Darien Dash is determined to wire urban America into the digital age. As founder of DME Interactive Holdings, a multi-service firm that provides an array of Internet and network services, Dash has broken new ground on several fronts. In 2000 before its founder even turned thirty, DME became the first new technology firm owned by an African American to be traded on Wall Street. Later that year Dash engineered a deal with America Online (AOL) to launch Places of Color, an Internet service provider (ISP). Dash’s phenomenal success is all the more impressive when the impulses of the industry are considered. “Our mission of expanding the hardware and software infrastructure within minority communities has been a long, hard road so far,” Dash told Black Enterprise’s Tariq K. Muhammad and Josee Valcourt.
Dash is reportedly worth $90 million, and is the brother of Clueless actress Stacey Dash. Born in the early 1970s and raised in Paramus, New Jersey, Dash showed a head for business at an early age. “He wouldn’t loan his toys; he’d rent them,” his mother, Linda Dash, told People writer Jennifer Wulff about her son’s childhood. In his first year at the University of Southern California, he started his own hip-hop record label, Roc-A-Blok Records. He served as president of the university’s Black Student Union on the way to earning a degree in political science and leadership. After graduation, Dash found work as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies with a specialty in new media marketing.
By the mid-1990s, Dash was serving as vice president of sales at Digital Music Xpress, which provided high-quality music-only channels for digital cable television. But he was perplexed by the parent company’s disinterest in marketing the service to major urban markets, which would involve rewiring existing systems in big cities for digital television—and the next stage, highspeed Internet access via a broadband. “Cable companies didn’t want to underwrite the costs of the hardware because they didn’t believe in the profit potential,” Dash told Black Enterprise. Realizing that many of the companies viewed urban consumers simply as a market for beepers and cellular phones, Dash saw an opportunity to start his own venture.
In September of 1994, from his bedroom in a Hackensack, New Jersey, apartment, Dash founded his
At a Glance…
Born c. 1972, in New York, NY; son of Dennis and Linda (a company manager) Dash; married; wife’s name, Deborah; three children. Education: Earned degree from the University of Southern California.
Career: Digital Music Xpress, vice president of sales, early 1990s; DME Interactive Holdings, Engiewood Cliffs, NJ, founder, 1994, and CEQ, 1995-.
company with initial start-up funds from a deal Roc-A-Blok made with Columbia Records. Other funds came from family and friends. Eleven months later, he formalized his venture as Digital Mafia Entertainment, LLC. Initially, his goal was to make DME a key player in the rewiring of urban markets for digital Internet connections. From there, the company would become a content provider for minorities in cyberspace. However, DME needed revenues first in order to make the investments in new technology, and so Dash began a consulting service that provided network design, e-commerce, and other new technology services. He built up an impressive client base that included the New York Knicks, Lugz, and HBO Home Video. “Our Web development business allowed us to have the cash flow to pay employees and develop relationships with major corporations,” he explained in Black Enterprise.
Historic Wall Street First
At the same time, as more and more Americans purchased personal computers and ventured into cyberspace, Dash realized that this revolution was not occurring with the same speed in urban markets. He began thinking about providing low-cost hardware as well as Internet access, but few shared his vision. “It was also hard to convince investors that the urban minority market he was targeting was viable—that blacks and Latinos ages 18 to 34 are a potentially profitable online demographic,” noted Time writer Tammerlin Drummond. Dash believed that taking his company public in an initial public offering, or IPO, would provide the necessary resources to carry out his plan. But the costs—and risks—were high. A standard IPO launch can cost up to $100,000 in accounting fees, and there is no guarantee that its stock will perform well. “I spoke to angel investors, venture capital firms and institutional investors,” he told Black Enterprise. “Either they wanted too much equity or too much control of the business,” he continued.
Moreover, Dash found himself one of a handful of minority executives to venture into the new technology world at this level. “What Dash has discovered is that this bumpy path to dotcom success is littered with many of the same obstacles faced by African Americans in the traditional corporate world,” wrote Time. Finally, an investment-firm executive suggested that Dash try a “reverse” merger, in which DME would acquire the assets of an existing public company. “That meant changing a lot about how we did business,” Dash told Essence. “We had to control operating expenses better, build an administrative infrastructure and learn to comply with a lot of rules that govern public companies. But amazingly,” within a month of finding an opportunity, “we were ready to make the deal,” he said in the same interview. In June of 1999, DME acquired Pride Automotive Group, an automotive leasing company. It was a nearly nonexistent company since all of its assets had already been sold, but its stock was still being traded. In the deal, DME took a controlling interest in Pride, while remaining Pride shareholders gained a minority interest in DME. Pride’s name and ticker symbol were then officially changed to DME, and began trading on the NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) market.
Later that year, Dash and his company acquired Kathoderay, a multimedia consulting firm in New York City. Its clients and employees came to DME, and were given stock in return. Kathoderay’s CEO, Kathleen McQuaid Packard, became senior vice president of interactive services at DME. With its tripled staff, DME opened a second office, in Manhattan, and Dash hired his mother as general manager of the company. The U.S. Department of Commerce named DME the minority technology firm of the year for 1999, and Dash’s high profile brought him to the attention of Heaven, a nonprofit organization in New York City that provides Internet training to public schools. He was invited to join its board of directors, and there met Ted Leonsis, an executive with AOL, which led to DME’s partnership with the most successful of all Internet service providers for a new online service, Places of Color. “We followed the career of Darien and were impressed with his credentials,” an executive with AOL, Audrey Weil, told Black Enterprise writer Carolyn M. Brown. “And the Places of Color online service is an important part of our overall strategy to reach new and growing audiences,” she added.
Places of Color, a subsidiary of DME, provides Internet access for $19.95 a month, and subscribers enjoy customized content on their Internet home page as well as the standard e-mail addresses and access to messaging, forums, and chat rooms. The customized content, consisting of dozens of links to specialized sites such as the National Urban League and the Black Health Network, makes Places of Color unique. In October of 2000, Dash and DME announced a project with computer giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) to sell personal computers under $250, which would include free Internet access in New York and New Jersey. The venture was the result of a meeting between Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP, and Dash which had been engineered by the New Markets (Digital Divide) Tour that year, an initiative of the Clinton White House. A research study showed, as Dash had long known, that personal computer ownership in black and Latino households lagged by 55 to 65 percent behind that of the general population. “He’s blazing a trail,” another HP executive, Doug McGowan, told Time. “If he’s successful, others will follow in his footsteps,” he concluded.
Black Enterprise, January 2000, p. 45; June 2000, p. 34.
Essence, November 2000, p. 104.
People, May 15, 2000, p. 33.
Time, December 4, 2000, p. 123.
DME Interactive Holdings, Inc., http://www.digitalmafia.com
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