For more than 20 years Imari Oliver navigated the financial sector of corporate America, moving from banking to advertising and marketing before starting his own venture, Bond & Play. “My professional career started in finance,” says the former VP of Sales and Global Partnerships, Esports at WME. “So I guess I’ve come full circle. However, it’s a much different industry.”
Though Oliver says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, Bond & Play, a holding company for businesses geared toward digital innovation now puts Oliver in the business of financial technology. And his newest initiative, FinTech BLK Fest, is aiming to draw more Black people into the industry.
Kicking off on November 16, the semi-virtual festival is promising to be an insightful experience for those who’ve ever ventured to know more about Blockchain, NFTs, Cryptocurrency, the Metaverse, WEB3 and FinTech Culture. A press release for the event says participants can expect to hear from changemakers in finance, tech and culture as well as attend masterclasses from powerful minds. “The event is designed to educate and arm attendees with the latest trends, insights and opportunities across FinTech,” the release reads.
EBONY spoke to Oliver ahead of the inaugural festival about his newest venture.
EBONY: Where did the idea for FinTechBLK come from?
IMARI OLIVER: I’ve always had a bias to action and it is the heartbeat of how I designed Bond & Play. We always wanted to move the needle, push on the edges of culture and challenge convention. I would point to my Level 3 career trajectory as the beginning of the idea. Most people that are close to me, know that I read all the time and have a fondness for going down the information “rabbit holes.” That curiosity intersected with projects I was working on with UNCF and HBCUs. Further, I actually started purchasing cryptocurrency and realized that the opportunities for financial empowerment, generational wealth, economic equity for the Black community that has been historically excluded, almost as a default, had the potential to be addressed without the middleman.
It also started because of an idea shaped by Cavel Khan, CRO Tumblr, and a conversation with Gary Vaynerchuk, Chairman of VaynerX, CEO of VaynerMedia that highlighted the challenge and support for the solution.
Blockchain, cryptocurrency, tokens (NFTS), the DAO, DeFi & dApps are all life and business changing opportunities. One right decision can easily change your life and your family’s life in an instance. Just look at the price of the top 5 cryptocurrencies today and where they were 6 -12 months ago. Let’s say that there are a lot of “invisible” millionaires walking around us today because of simple decisions that were made year, months or even days ago. So as the greatest shift of wealth is happening, the Black community has a window to become part of a new and developing financial ecosystem that is impacting every industry.
How did you go about curating the speakers for the Masterclasses?
I wanted to create an event that I would want to attend. Being intellectually curious, I was fascinated with individuals who were shaping and leading the charge. Many I followed or were connected to on Twitter and LinkedIn and for those I didn’t know, I just jumped into their DMs. I’ve also produced major events before. I produced the first TEDxHarlem which had over 700 people, the first Esports Brand Summit before Esports was a thing in North America and again at SONY Playstation Theater to deliver an Esports Sales convening.
I was looking for the genius across the spectrum of Finance, Technology and Culture and I’m very good at connecting the dots. I wanted the people that were both subject matter experts and more importantly passionate. I employed a tactic Detective Bunk from the Wire once mentioned. He called it using “soft eyes.” The ability to see the fuzziness around things to find the truth. Further, I wanted to create a symphony of speakers and presenters. The event starts with conversations around financial empowerment, learning, secrets of wealth to set the table, then moves into the people and platforms that are shaping the future through “financial technologies and culture.”
For those unfamiliar with Fintech, what should they know?
Fintech is more than just finance and technology and I think that is what frightens a lot of people. The blockchain is revolutionary. It injects a level of trust and transparency into a system that is hidden from most people. It is transformative and disruptive. It literally changes how money (fiat) moves, clearly teaches you new words, but more importantly those pennies that you may have in the junk drawer or on the floor have increased in value. There are a few crypto exchanges that you can get free crypto for simply signing up and watching a few 10 second or less videos.
I would also say, don’t overthink it, take your coffee money for a week and just start. This is an industry that will be based on community, collaboration and culture. There are some really, really smart people who are willing to share their information easily.
Why should those unfamiliar with Fintech attend this workshop? What will they learn that can be life-changing?
If you have a vision for yourself and your loved ones, a talent, an idea or are passionate about something, then this is the event for you. Though it was shaped around the Black community, we have one of the most diverse speakers lists for a conference in this space. Attendees will be exposed to new ideas that may challenge normal convention and set you off on an entirely new path.