We talked to Derrick N. Ashong of AMP Global Technologies about Take Back the Mic and the impact of COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Derrick N. Ashong: We are doing well, thank you. Fortunately for us, shortly before Covid struck the world, we relocated to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, which had one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, resulting in very few cases. For many months now, we have been down to zero cases and have been enjoying a relatively normal life in our tropical paradise.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AMP Global Technologies.
Derrick N. Ashong: I was born in Accra, Ghana grew up in the US and the Middle East during the height of the first Gulf War. Then, after graduating from Harvard with a BA, I returned for a Ph.D. program in which I studied how concepts of open-source software could map onto content promotion, a subject that interested me as a musician, singer, and rapper. Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics recruited me out of my Doctorate program to apply my findings in real life at his Weapons of Mass Entertainment in Hollywood, where I consulted for Nokia, Interscope Records, and Visa.
During the Obama campaign, I was interviewed on the street in a video that went viral, leading to my working for Oprah Winfrey, CNN, Al-Jazeera, and ABC-Disney, creating multi-platform interactive media properties reaching 300M+ households around the world. During that period, I also spoke for the UN, UK Parliament, the London School of Economics, and Harvard Business School about issues of Tech & Society.
With my bandmate, Jonathan Gramling – a talented singer and songwriter who had also served as the Deputy Tech Director for the Democratic National Committee, pioneering online fundraising – I decided to put my life’s work into founding our company AMP Global Technologies, to build community around great content by rewarding fans for engaging. We added two additional co-founders, Esteban Robles Luna, a senior Ph.D. computer scientist from Google and LinkedIn, and Lucia Brawley, an actress, writer, and political organizer, and ended up creating an original series, “Take Back the Mic,” that garnered two interactive Emmy nods for empowering fans to curate the content using our platform.
How does AMP Global Technologies innovate?
Derrick N. Ashong: AMP Global is revolutionizing the telecom and media industries by empowering fans to earn mobile data to discover and amplify great content.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Derrick N. Ashong: When the pandemic hit, we slashed our burn by 40%, but have discovered that while other industries have suffered greatly, ours has accelerated, with internet usage up 70% worldwide and streaming up 13%.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Derrick N. Ashong: It was hard to tell our employees that their salaries were decreasing, and some investors who had committed to our round ended up backing out due to economic fears, but our team buckled down and used the confinement period to go into overdrive, yielding partnerships with Nigeria’s 9Mobile and Megalectrics, Ghana’s MultiMedia Group, the Rwandan Broadcasting Agency, Kenya’s Royal Media Services, the UN, UNESCO, UNHCR, and others. We learned that while global internet usage was up 70%, Africa only has 7% 4G penetration. We made it our goal to build a moonshot coalition of partners to help 10x that number over the next 5 years, leveraging our show The Mic: Africa – the first interactive TV format born on the African continent – and our native mobile app, Take Back the Mic, which we recently released in the Google and Apple app stores.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and AMP Global Technologies in the future?
Derrick N. Ashong: I lift weights and do Uechi-Ryu karate, spend time with my family, and try to find moments to enjoy the natural beauty of Mauritius. But I won’t pretend I get much sleep because I can feel we are on the precipice of something great as a company, and I want to ensure we achieve it. I protect my company by surrounding myself with and galvanizing genius team members, investors, advisors, and board members to create a brain trust that allows our growing company to punch above its weight. Perhaps my background as an immigrant and growing up in a war zone has given me the ability to see around corners, so I try to plan for all eventualities and rally the most opportunities possible so that there is always an avenue for success.
Your final thoughts?
Derrick N. Ashong: Our show, The Mic: Africa, launches this December, with top rappers, singers, BBoys, and graffiti artists from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, and Mauritius, all available on our Take Back the Mic (TBTM) app and via our regional media partners. It is a global conversation in your local language and a love letter to the Continent. Africa has innovated ways to work around Covid that the rest of the world hasn’t, so we want to take this opportunity to uplift the world with our culture and technology at this most difficult time while also onboarding a generation onto the internet, so they can compete with their peers in the global marketplace and press fast-forward on achieving all the goals we share as a planet.
Find out how to download our app at takebackthemic.com and watch the trailer for our digital Latin America predecessor to the Africa TV show: Trailer (LatAm) – 2x Emmy Finalist for Outstanding Interactive Program
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