Marketing pro Michael Hall on building brands, advocating for inclusion in #MiamiTech
Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all venture. It’s a hustle every hour of every day and when businesses need help scaling their brand, Michael Hall is there. For 15 years Hall’s company, MediumFour, has been building up brands from inception to execution. Combined with their Digital Grass accelerator model, which builds startups by women, minorities and/or LGBTQIA+, Hall’s finesse for expansion is well placed.
Digital Grass recently launched GROWTHerapy, a mentorship and mental wellness cohort. The program provided five different cohorts of 10 participants each the opportunity to receive feedback from entrepreneurs while also working with a licensed therapist.
Hall sat down for an in depth conversation to discuss his start in marketing and graphic design, how he launched his business, MediumFour, showing up as your unapologetic self in business settings, and the importance of advocating for inclusion of Black founders in Miami’s tech scene.
Janey Tate: When did you launch MediumFour and Digital Grass – and they’re two separate entities, right? Can you tell me the entrepreneurial story from launching those companies?
Mike Hall: I had Footprints Unlimited. Dante [Hall’s business partner] had Cyber Baldhead Communications, and so we were both doing two different things.
Dante’s my business partner in pretty much every venture I’m in. We [were] going to work in four different mediums and four medium[s] sounded stupid, so literally, the name just became MediumFour – that’s where it came from.
Tate: I always thought it was a dope name, but I was like, I don’t know, it just sounded cool and trendy.
Hall: To tell you the truth, we wanted something that didn’t have to sit, ethnicwise, as I called it — it didn’t put us into a box… We didn’t want to build a brand that typecasts us – or when you looked at it, it was “oh, that’s a Black marketing agency,” because we primarily focus on minority companies/Black owned companies, but that’s not the only thing we work with. So, we didn’t want to get typecast. We were like: “alright, you know what? Let’s make it simple – ” because, also, we were trying to make money. So, we didn’t want to put a lot of time into developing the logo. So, MediumFour – the logo has always been four bars – real simple – and one bar was shorter than the other to make the letter ‘m,’ and it’s just four bars. So, that was the MediumFour logo and that was it.
Tate: What has that journey been like for you guys? What would you say was that pivotal moment where you’re like: “ok, we made it – like we passed that point of the grind?”
Hall: Two points would be: not starving and being able to go out to eat dinner; that would be a big point. That and being able to sleep in a comfortable bed; I remember buying new mattresses.
Tate: See, we’re gonna have to have a sidebar on that because people don’t like to talk about that part of the entrepreneurial journey.
Hall: Most people lie about the struggle and the support they get. My parents were always supportive, but they were going through their own things at that time in my life…I went from an air mattress to sleeping in a king-sized California bed; that was step one. Step two would definitely be not starving and everything else. Step three, the biggest pivotal moment, which actually happened during a pandemic, was when our paying taxes equated to what my salary used to be at one point in my life. That’s when it kind of hit…when I realized I was going to have to pay taxes I once used to make in a yearly salary.
Tate: Can you tell me where Digital Grass plays into all of that? I know Tech, Beats & Bytes is a part of Digital Grass, so tell me how all these worlds collide.
Hall: Probably eight years in – we had a little thing that a lot of people don’t know about; it was called MediumFour, and it was our way of becoming investors where we would offer the marketing, digital design services, packaging, and everything you could think about from a marketing standpoint to a company for small equity in their company. A lot of people didn’t get that and didn’t see the value of marketing, and everything else. So, some people kind of bought into it, but we never really knew how to do the paperwork. So, we always knew we were going to be investors in some way, shape, or form – then the tech scene was coming around, but we had already developed a platform that everybody’s kind of doing now for diversity and inclusion. We developed a platform called Gateway Software Development, which ranked and scored diversity and inclusion from a procurement side – which, six years, eight years later – we’re just now redoing that project and it’s coming back up.
We had developed a platform called Pretty Fresh that was going to be the distribution of plants, fruits, and vegetables; although they didn’t look pretty to be on the shelves, they were still fresh and edible. So we were going to put them in the boxes and we had a platform, which I pitched when I still had my job, which led me to get fired. We had a platform, which was entertainment, artists, and rewards. So, it was a card that you carried around, and you would get an email that would lead you to a website that would list all the discounts, coupons you’d get from having that card. Later, it was known as Groupon. I actually fished it through that platform and they told me: “it would never work.” They told me: “the Sunday newspaper wasn’t going away,” and all this stuff. They were like: “we’re going to just pass on it for right now.” So, they decided they were going to pass on it and then, I got fired maybe a month later. I thought I was training two people because our division was growing. I was pretty much training two people to take my position because I was doing the work of almost three people. Right after I got fired – that’s when Groupon got like, that fifty million dollar valuation and I sent them a letter, thanking them for firing me and letting me explore on my own, and I’ve never had a job since.
Tate: As a black business owner and a startup in South Florida, where’s that first place someone should begin?
Hall: I would say remove the grout of the mosaic and make the glass clash, and combine themselves – and what I mean by that is, don’t keep moving in silos. If you look at your life, you’ve been moving in silos for the last ten years, and those silos will only get you so far. So, think about a mosaic glass panel where you see all these different colors and it looks beautiful when it’s all together, but when you get up close you see this ugly grout that’s breaking it apart; that’s how our community is. We’re diverse. We’ve got all this color – all these different things, but it’s mosaic and those grouts come with little lines…Break the grout, get uncomfortable, and go places you normally don’t go, but make sure it’s relative to what you’re doing.
…Once you have broken those boundaries, you don’t have to make somebody that comes in behind you go through the same thing you went through. That’s the pain and suffering of being a leader.
Tate: Now, Mike, what do you say to people who ask “why can’t I just show up as my Black, unapologetic self in these spaces, and they just accept me – and if they don’t, then I don’t want to deal with them anyway?”
Hall: Be yourself, but know that being whoever you are might come with limitations of how you relate to people. So, being myself, do I listen to Bob Dylan? No, but do I know the whole song, “My Guitar Weeps,” because Prince played the song in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? So if I’m riding around listening to “My Guitar Weeps,” even though I’m listening to the live version to hear Prince do his riff, that might be a conversation I can have with somebody, but if I’m riding around listening to Rick Ross, I might not be able to have that conversation.
You should always be authentic to who you are, but you should always be willing to diversify who you are. I go to meetings in Stan Smith’s, Adidas socks, sweater shorts, a t-shirt, and one of my brand’s hats; that’s my uniform, and if somebody has something to say about it, this is how I make my money. Are you here to do a fashion consultation or are we here to make money? At the same time, when it gets to a certain level of money, I might throw on some slacks, but I purposely chose my shoe because it’s like a fast casual shoe. It’s not the high end restaurant, but it’s also not fast food. So, it looks good with slacks on, and once you put the t-shirt on, now if I want to go into “Jay-Z mode,” all I do is throw on a jacket with the shirt, you know? It doesn’t say you can’t be who you are, but you also don’t get to show up at an interview looking like trash. There’s a difference between authentic and disrespectful. Even though you run your business, you [are] still always applying for a job in some way, shape, or form.
Tate: So tell me more about your project to increase mental health awareness for Black founders, GROWTHerapy. How is that going?
Hall: We are in the last cohort of GROWTHerapy. We had amazing results. 80% of entrepreneurs saw a growth in business – financially. The increased mental stability has helped them grow. The sad part was because of financial restraints only 30% are likely to continue therapy. We are working on a discount to increase that number. We are hoping with continued support and more grants we can extend the length of the program and increase intake.
Tate: If people want to follow you, they want to support what you’re doing, whether it’s MediumFour, Digital Grass, Tech Beats & Bytes – what’s the best place to reach you and how can they follow you, and support you? Any final thoughts?
Hall: We are @MichaelHallTM,” everywhere, every platform – “@DigiGrass,” everywhere, every platform – “@MediumFour,” everywhere, every platform, except Instagram; somebody took it, so it’s “Medium.Four,” but we’re everywhere…
Pass on some of that wealth, and that wealth is knowledge; it’s not always money. Pass it on to somebody else. Let them execute it. You can’t be the best record producer for the best R&B artist. You can’t be everything. At this point, I want to be Hans Zimmer, and if people don’t know who Hans Zimmer is, Hans Zimmer has done some of the best scores for the biggest movies you’ve ever watched – nobody cares about the scores, but guess what? He gets a check every time that movie runs… I want to be Hans Zimmer. You don’t have to know me. I just want to help other people, and I just want you to know every time you hear something that says, “Grow Digital Grass, MediumFour,” I’m still collecting that check, that’s all I want you to know…
You may not see me, you may not know that I was there – just like when you saw the “No Violence” platform in Miami Gardens, where the peace sign is the only sign – that was my artwork. I painted that; that billboard was my artwork. So, you can say, “oh, what are you doing about violence in our community?” I painted that piece. I helped run that program. So, when you talk about the CRA’s and community redevelopment, I’ve worked with six of them. I’m trying to stop gentrification. I told y’all to show up to the county board meetings and the city commission meetings. I’m doing my part. Where were you?
Check out our full candid conversation with MediumFour co-founder, Mike Hall, here.
For more information on GROWTherapy and Digital Grass, click here.
Reporter Amanda Finn contributed to this article. Refresh Miami has teamed up with Hy-Lo News to bring you the untold stories of Black People helping to shape the tech scene in Miami. Hy-Lo News is South Florida’s only news blog dedicated to Black and Brown Millennials. Through this partnership Refresh Miami will bring you in-depth profiles of tech professionals, entrepreneurs, investors and community leaders who are taking their rightful place in Miami-Dade County’s tech boom. If you know of anyone in the space we should profile please email Janey Tate, Hy-Lo News Editor-in-Chief, at info@Hylonews.com.
READ MORE IN THIS SERIES
- Miami Gardens natives launch app to help tourists find the best local spots
- Meet a Miami startup building a multicultural, multilingual podcast network
- Sebiya aims to lead way in digitizing travel experiences and launches ‘Less is More’ initiative for Miami Beach hotels - October 1, 2021
- Marketing pro Michael Hall on building brands, advocating for inclusion in #MiamiTech - August 26, 2021
- Meet a Miami startup building a multicultural, multilingual podcast network - March 21, 2021