In a hurry and need a ride? Imagine, in 1997, the only method of transportation available was a taxi. Yet, residents living in predominantly Black neighborhoods in almost any major city in the United States cannot flag a taxi down. Because taxis rarely venture into their neighborhoods.
This means they have to call the cab company directly and say a secret prayer that a driver would take mercy on them and accept their request. Is this some cheeky made-for-television horror movie? In 1997, there was no Uber, Lyft, or Grubhub. Netflix and chill do not exist yet, and AltaVista and Yahoo reign supreme.
During this time, MaxBruce Davis made a name for himself as one of the few Black contractors skilled in building gas stations for fossil fuel companies like Arco, Shell, BP, and Chevron. Notably, he rebuilt the gas station on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that burnt down during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
Curious about the internet, MaxBruce learned the basics from a former technology-savvy secretary. As he got drawn more into technology, he began looking at the internet as an opportunity. He had a vision that it would reshape the entire world, and he wanted to be a part of that. MaxBruce established a couple of websites to get first-hand knowledge of the ins and outs of running websites. They were doing fine, so he started strategizing about ways to grow his business.
This led to him conducting extensive research on tech startups. MaxBruce said: “I saw the tremendous potential in that. Tech startups were moving fast with their IPOs back in 1997 and 1998. They were raising hundreds of millions of dollars and breaking records at the time.”
Ahead of his time, MaxBruce came up with the concept of The PickupPoint Network “My vision was to allow people to shop online from their home and pick up their orders locally.” Investing his own capital into his tech startup, he filed the trademark for the company on September 11, 2001. He then went on and hired two employees. It took them six months to build out the database of products on the website. On the site, merchants were divided by ZIP code. When a customer logged into the site only the merchants in their zipcode would show up.
The website operated as an online one-stop shop and had a database of everyday products from phones to applesauce. When customers logged onto the site, they could enter their zip code, the product they were searching for, and the database would allow them to see all the product prices in their area.
Customers were even able to search for gas prices by zip code to choose the station most affordable to them. The prices they saw were in real-time. Merchants also had the ability to change their prices in real-time on their merchant dashboards and offer customers exclusive incentives to entice more people to buy from their establishments.
When it came time to raise capital for his newly founded tech company MaxBruce did like most tech startups and went to Silicon Valley seeking funds from venture capitalists. As a Black man, the task was daunting, but he did not let it stop him. According to MaxBruce:
Anybody who was anybody at the time in tech funding I went to them with my business plan just to get that first initial pitch meeting. Venture capitalists had their own network.
Unfortunately, he was denied each time.
Unable to secure the much-needed capital, MaxBruce sold off his website pickuppoint.com and let his trademark expire back in 2010. The irony of this situation is that Walmart, a multinational retail corporation, currently uses “Pickup Points,” where customers can order everyday items from groceries to diapers on their website and then go to their local Walmart and pick up their orders. In 2020 the mega-retailer’s revenue was $134.7 billion.
It is important to remember that a Black man pioneered this concept twenty years ago but was shunned by Silicon Valley venture capitalists. All of this was before Google even existed, and Amazon was just a massive online book store.
Although there has been a rise in Black startups receiving venture capital since MaxBruce’s tech venture twenty years ago, Silicon Valley still prioritizes investments in predominantly white-run male-dominated tech startups.
In 2020, companies in the United States were able to acquire record amounts of venture capital. The total raised was a little under $150 billion. But, unfortunately, less than one percent of those funds went to Black founders, who could only secure $1 billion.
Interestingly Black founders are also more likely to hire Black people for open tech positions in their companies. Fewer than five percent of employees at the top tech companies are Black, according to Wired magazine. The good ‘old boy’ white man’s tech networks will continue to shun people like MaxBruce and other Black founders until they are held accountable by the masses.
Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Crunchbase News: Highlighting Notable Funding To Black Founders In 2020; by Gené Teare
Wired Magazine: These Black Founders Succeeded In Spite of Silicon Valley; by Sherrell Dorser
Patch: First-Of-Its-Kind Walmart Pickup Point Opens In Lincolnwood
All Images Courtesy of MaxBruce Davis – Used With Permission