Do you have any key points of advice you'd give someone looking to start a business and develop a brand based on your experience?

Based on my experience, the act of “developing a brand” was secondary to just trying to live and operate in ways that fully express who I am. I certainly haven’t spent lots of time thinking about or plotting “The Baratunde Brand,” at least not in that kind of formal way. Maybe I just don’t like the term “brand” especially when applied to human beings.

As I’ve grown, I have given thought to my own values and how I live them (or don’t). And I’ve especially thought about what sorts of projects and work to accept or not based on how it aligns with those values, what I might learn from the experience, and what sort of value (aka money!) is available, if any. What I say no to has become as important as what I say yes to.

So I think there’s a balance to be struck. Too much concern for one’s brand can paralyze you with concern for how things might appear to others. But total lack of criteria or discretion leave you open to living and operating without meaning. Both extremes are undesirable in my view. 

The process of developing my own "brand," however, was a result of experimentation and testing of boundaries. 

Some of that experimentation happened naturally. Other parts were more intentional and guided. In the past few years, I've worked professionally with two women who really have helped me determine and articulate my vision and values. One is Priya Parker who runs Thrive Labs. The other is Julia Lynton-Boelte, who has been my chief of staff for some time and, more recently, has been my life coach. The act of knowing one's purpose and designing a life that fulfills it can often benefit from some outside support. So consider that.

Last, watch Key & Peele. It will just make your life happier.

Will you write a sequel to How To Be Black?

You mean like How To Be Blacker

I haven't made any plans for a followup to my 2012 book. I do have ideas, but I'm full of ideas. Like I think we could empty out one American city at a time for like a year-and-a-half just to upgrade the infrastructure and clean it. That's an idea I have, but I haven't done anything about it.

There are certainly more stories to be told that align with the spirit of How To Be Black. If I take that one, you'll be the nth person to know!

Will you shovel my driveway? My city?

Probably not.

I have been known by the hashtag #shoveltunde on occasion. I love snow. I love suiting up and weathering the elements. And a good blizzard brings out the extremist good samaritan in me. Several times in NYC I've headed out into the whiteness and pushed cars and moved frozen water.

The most epic moment occurred in Chicago where I happened to be in the right place at the right time with just the right amount of crazy to clear an exit ramp on Lakeshore Drive. Here's a video of my TEDxMidwest talk through that journey. 

But as for me coming to your city and shoveling your driveway, I doubt it. There's only so much ground one man and one shovel can cover. What we need is a movement: many people, many shovels. And one of those people, well, it could be you. 

Will you be on my podcast?

Maybe. I've done lots and lots of podcasts. With a heavy travel schedule and a life filled with non-podcast-based activities, I can't guarantee availability. I'm always grateful to be asked, however! If I can't do your podcast, it doesn't reflect on your worth as a human being but rather on the finite nature of my own being. 

Oh, and here are some sloppy links to podcasts I've done in the past. 

Some of my faves

What should I do to transition from school into the Real World?

Take everything you can.

I don’t mean this as some sort of carpe diem, inspired metaphor. I mean, before you leave your campus, take as much as you can: furniture, lamps, carpeting, dishes. College tuition is rising faster than the uselessness of Congress. We don’t know exactly why, but we can all agree that physical goods, especially those that help one live in a post-college apartment, have actual value. Even if you didn't get a good education, you can at least reduce your IKEA budget significantly. Take everything you can.

Eliminate your rich friends

The economics of actual living, especially in this economy, require you to manage your costs more aggressively than at earlier points in your life. This is harder if you keep your rich friends around. They are not like you. They can drink whenever they want and have no concerns for happy hour pricing. They can eat at restaurants all the time. And they will suggest you join them for these activities all the time because they aren’t real people. They are androids sent here from a just world where everyone has a chance to realize their dreams, and they shit bricks... made of gold. If you are the rich friend, activate your empathy subroutine, and pretend you're not.

Join a local organization comprised of more than recent college grads

It could be a reading group, volunteer organization or terrorist sleeper cell. I just want you to make an effort to break out of your bubble. Most of your professors didn't teach you anything usable, and your friends don't know anything yet. You've had enough classroom learning. Hang out with some people who've paid rent, birthed a baby or yelled at a city councillor. You will be better for it.

Look up from your screen

You may have gotten used to Facebook and texting being the center of your life. If you went to a school with a campus, you could walk around with your attention buried in your smartphone, and the worst thing that could happen was maybe you'd step on a squirrel or get grazed by a cyclist or skateboarder. In the actual world, you will be run over and crushed by a car or a delivery truck or both because they don't think you're as precious as you've been told you are. You cannot exactly control how you die, but you can generally avoid dying like an idiot. Look up from your screen. There's a whole 3D immersive world right there for you to interact with. 

Will you promote my thing?

I likes the things I like very much and am happy to promote things I believe in. It’s best if I find things on my own. Asking for promotion by me is not a reliable business model, but if you think I'll dig it based on my past diggage, share away!

I want to write! What recommendations do you have for me?

I want to write! What recommendations do you have for me?

Most of my paid or otherwise-supported work comes as a result of inbound requests based on a) prior work that doesn't suck or b) word-of-mouth driven by kind people who have a positive impression of me.

When I look back at my editorial relationships -- from The Somerville News and Dig Boston to Fast Company -- they can nearly all be traced back to a) or b) above. So in thinking about self-promotion for writers, I would think about how to drive one of those two strategies. Some ideas with headings:

Produce As Much Work That Doesn't Suck As Possible and Make It Available.

Years ago I met comedian and actor Jeff Garlin. I asked his advice on "making it" in comedy, and his answer was, essentially, "focus on doing good work, and opportunities emerge from there."

From a more practical perspective, just produce a ton of work that's interesting to you, and make it as good as you can. 

Encourage Good People To Learn About You And Your Work

Engage with the community of people and ideas around the people and ideas that interest you.

In the digital sense, this may mean following certain accounts on Twitter, reading and commenting on relevant blogs and websites, or reblogging the hell out of animated gifs on Tumblr. 

In the physical world, this could mean showing up at panels, conferences, happy hours and other social-professional gatherings, having actual out-loud, in-person conversations with other humans you know in the same areas of interest as yours.

Ask People Who Already Like You For Their Help

Choose a few supportive people you've worked with or had a personal relationship with. Send them personal notes explaining your current location and work, and that you are looking to connect to the community where you are currently living/working. If you find 5 to 10 people to reach out to, odds are high that many of them know someone or are a step removed from someone who could get you closer to your goals.

Do Unto Others....

Keep in mind also that a certain way to improve the impact of your own self promotion is to promote others. When you hear about an opportunity, consider who you know who'd be good at it, and hook that person up. When you have positive reactions to others' work, don't keep it to yourself. Tell people! Be the change you want to see!

To Sum It All Up

I'm ultimately promoting a simple formula: produce good work + tell people about the work you do + be active in the community of people doing similar or related work.

With this basic approach, what I've found is that folks start to learn about what you are about and good at, and they may seek your input, participation, or labor. 

How did you market your book, How To Be Black?

There was a lot involved behind the scenes in trying to make How To Be Black as successful as possible. I'll add more here later, but for now, check out these interviews that get a bit more behind the scenes in terms of the process

What does "Baratunde" mean? Is it African? I knew an African once.

My name is based on the Yoruba name "Babatunde" from Nigeria. According to Wikipedia:

Babatunde is a male given name. In the Yoruba language, it means Father Returns, or a Father has Returned. This generally refers to a male ancestor such as a deceased father, grandfather, or great grandfather.

My parents found the name "Baratunde" (not Babatunde) in a book of African names. They were 60s revolutionary types and wanted their son to have an African name. My mother was a special fan of her grandfather and wanted to invoke his spirit in my life, so in a way, I was named for my great grandfather, Benjamin Lonesome.

According to the book,

a) a more colloquial translation of Babatunde is "one who is chosen."

This was important to my mother because she had suffered a series of miscarriages prior to my arrival. When I finally showed up, it was kind of a big deal. Some people find this out and say, "Ohhh, wow. You're the chosen one." To that I respond, "The order of words matters. The Chosen One has a lot of stress associated with it. There can only be one. Too much pressure. Meanwhile 'one who is chosen' could be one among millions, so let's all relax."

b) "Baratunde" was merely a different way to spell "Babatunde."

It's like Jon vs John! Or so the book implied. However, after meeting several (hundred) Nigerians throughout my life, I have been reminded that "Bara" and "Baba" are not the same. More aggressive Nigerians inform me that my name actually means nothing. Others have defended my parents' afrocentrism and given me hugs.

Finally, my middle name is Rafiq which is Arabic for "friend or companion." The combination "Baratunde Rafiq" was meant to mean "Kingly Companion."

And that's the story of Slavery In America!