Young Entrepreneur: Dante Lee

Business is very risky, but life is risky. Nothing is ever guaranteed. It’s a risk going to college. Just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically get a high paying job.

Dante Lee is the 25-year old president and CEO of Diversity City Media, a very successful multicultural marketing and public relations firm based in Columbus, Ohio. With annual billings of about $500,000, and clients like Verizon, McDonald’s, NASCAR, BET, and Heineken, he has proven that a small person can change the world.

Lee, a graduate of Bowie State University with a Bachelors degree in Computer Science, was the only person in the school’s 100-year history to graduate from a 4-year program in three years. He was recently recognized as one of the “Top 30 Young Leaders For 2006” by Ebony Magazine, and was also nominated for the 2006 Small Business of the Year Award by Black Enterprise Magazine.

Dante recently keynoted the AT&T Black Telecommunications Conference in St. Louis, and was a featured panelist with Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West at the Tavis Smiley Leadership Institute in Houston. He is also the author of “How To Think Big—When You’re Small” – a motivational quick-read for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

BSN: What inspired you to start your own business as a teenager and while still in school?
DL: Well, my father was always self-employed, and he motivated me to do the same. I realized that there is just so much flexibility when you’re working for yourself. While in college, I also had Black professors who were successful entrepreneurs as well. They were always talking about their endeavors, and I just found that so intriguing.

BSN: Were you entrepreneurial as a child, too? Did you have the proverbial lemonade stand?
DL: Actually, no. But I always wondered how things worked. I always had this curiosity about the functionality of certain businesses like newspapers and department stores. I would ask questions like: “How do they make money?” or “Where does this store get all their products from?” or even “What does their overhead look like?”

BSN: What type of business does your father have?
DL: My dad owns a computer company called Platinum Computer Services in the Washington, DC area. And my mother is an event planning consultant. My company is actually one of her clients.

BSN: You majored in computer science, so what gave you the idea of going into the media business?
DL: Well, we’re not really in the media business; we’re in the marketing business. During my last semester in school, I took a marketing class and just fell in love with the subject. Marketing is fun because you can be so creative and spontaneous with it. It’s not about being book smart, it’s about being innovative.

BSN: Do you feel that you fully enjoyed your college experience, or did you short-change yourself by graduating in three years while running your own company.
DL: People go to college for different reasons. Some go to hang out, others go to graduate. I was interested in graduating as soon as possible. I enjoyed school, but school can take up a lot of your time…I had other goals to pursue.

BSN: Did you ever consider working for a big corporation after graduation? Why did you opt for self-employment?
DL: I definitely considered working for a big corporation. However, after being an intern at NASA and the FDIC I realized that I want to be more than just an employee. I wanted to be the employer. I want to be involved with the major decisions. I like for my role in the company to be very pivotal.

BSN: Did you feel that this was at all risky?
DL: Absolutely. Business is very risky, but life is risky. Nothing is ever guaranteed. It’s a risk going to college. Just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically get a high paying job.

BSN: Why did you move your headquarters to Los Angeles, first, and then relocate to Columbus, Ohio?
DL: Los Angeles is a great place to start a business because of the many resources that are readily available. There are plenty of entrepreneurs in LA to network with, and plenty of potential clients to reach out to. So for my first few years in business, this was a great environment. However, LA is also very expensive. So when I got to the point where I needed to hire a staff and get office space, I had to move on to a place where the cost of living was much cheaper. Columbus, Ohio was a perfect fit because it’s dirt cheap there. Plus my business partner, William Moss of HBCU Connect, has his office there, and this was a great opportunity for us to work more closely.

BSN: How many hours per week do you work?
DL: Before I had my staff, I probably worked 50 plus hours a week. Now that I have a staff of four though, I usually work a normal 40 hour week.

BSN: Do you love what you do? Do you think that’s important with any job?
DL: I have a serious passion for what I do. It’s fun and unpredictable, and that keeps me on my feet. I love to strategize. I tell people all the time that they better find a job that they love because spending 40 hours a week doing something you hate is going to make life very difficult.

BSN: Where did you develop the wherewithal to build your company without the benefit of experience, an MBA or a law degree?
DL: Well, business is based on instinct and passion. One’s previous experience in business may not mean much when applied to a new venture. Also, earning a degree in business doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll be a success in business. It’s about strategizing, and putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I think that I’ve always been a good problem solver, and that gave me the guts to build my company to where it is now.

BSN: You’re modest and say you’re not blessed with any special talents, but after reading your book, I see you as sharing insights which make you appear wise beyond your years.
DL: Well, I believe in using common sense. Many say that I must be a genius because of my accomplishments at such a young age, but I just stick with what makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then I don’t do it. That’s my only secret.

BSN: What do you expect Diversity City Media to look like in five years?
DL: In five years, Diversity City Media will hopefully be a multi-million dollar company partially owned by TV One or Radio One or some other Black-owned media powerhouse.

BSN: What advice do you have for anybody who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DL: My advice is to work now and play later. I believe that if you invest five years into a company, you will reap huge benefits later. But you have to be willing to put in the work and the time. Also, remember that you don’t have to be the next Bill Gates to be successful in business. Many feel that their business ideas have to be revolutionary, and this is not true. There are so many business opportunities out there that are so simple and easy to get going.

BSN: Are you available or too busy to date. I’m sure a lot of young ladies would be very interested in meeting a promising eligible bachelor like yourself.
DL: I am happily married with children, and a baby boy on the way.

For business purposes anyone can contact Lee at [email protected].

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