A certain lust for life embodies the experiences shared by all adults from diverse walks of life. At the core, we all want work-life balance sometimes we hope that after-work event turns into a movie. The events tailored for those that come from a melaninated background are sometimes harder to find depending on the city you live in. Work-life balance is something that is a continuous juggling act from having a good happy hour spot to having a dope brunch spot that doesn’t limit your mimosa, to just having cool events to attend to meet other like-minded people in your area.
These things are all important to what makes cities attractive to young adults. If your city doesn’t have these things you somewhat have two options, move or create it yourself.
That’s where Matt Tuffuor and Warren Jones come in. They had a shared desire of wanting more out of the entertainment/event/nightlife space that was more tailored to their interests, musical taste, and background. With their foresight, they joined forces to create events that provide experiences for individuals who had an authentic desire to toast to their achievements whether big or small.
We had the opportunity to chat with Matt and Warren of Toasted Life, to talk about their inspirations and the work they’ve put in to create their business.
What exactly is Toasted Life?
We are an event production engine fueled by community building, connecting, and cultural diversity––propelled by authentically rich experiences. Toasted Life is a lifestyle curation platform that operates across a unique spectrum consisting of social parties, professional networking, domestic and international trips, brand partnerships, talent management, and event consultation. Our name is derived from “toasting to life” because we believe celebration is vital to the advancement of joy, camaraderie, and growth. There is always something to celebrate; we simply aim to be a vehicle that drives our audience to make space for those moments.
Our brand has produced experiences and events across the US in cities such as NYC, LA, SF, CHI, and ATL as well as international markets such as Canada, Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya. We have also partnered with a number of global brands including Blavity, Pandora, Google, Buick and Under Armour to develop experiences for our shared target audiences.
How did your upbringing shape your views on being creative and starting a business?
My mom climbed the corporate ladder, eventually earning rank in the executive C-suite while my father left his corporate grind to pursue his entrepreneurial itch of becoming a self-employed business owner. While I didn’t grow up having both of them in the same household, its evident both of their paths made an impact and paved a way for me in my pursuits to create my own legacy. I acquired deep knowledge while hustling in the corporate space at companies like Apple and Airbnb for 9 years, and now having recently left to dive into Toasted Life full time, I’m equipped to get this thang poppin.
My upbringing played a huge role in me being an entrepreneur. My parents gave me space and freedom to chase my crazy ideas, as long as I made school my first priority. As a super young kid, I went through all sorts of building ideas and businesses. At summer camp I sold snacks that I would store underneath my bunk to other campers. When I was in middle school I cut lawns in my neighborhood. During HS (Highschool) I launched a sneaker company and sold Nikes and other popular brands to my classmates. The traditional 9-5 life was never something I entertained until I was in college and seeking internships out. I definitely thank my parents for planting that entrepreneurial seed in me.
Who inspires you?
There are a few big names that stand out for me who’s work/moves captivates me, but after thinking about it more, I think my closest friends and entrepreneurial contemporaries inspire me more because I can relate to them, their growth, their wins, and losses on a level that feels real. Being able to text or call them, or have a meal with them about the full spectrum of life, work and ambition keeps things in motion for me, that in itself inspires me.
I second Warren’s comment about friends but would also add my family. I learned to work hard by watching my mom, dad and grandparents grind. They are all very different people but they have been remarkable role models. My Grandfather and grandmother taught me the value of saving, my Dad taught me the value of persistence and my Mom taught me the value of being selfless.
Did you think you found the value in college during or after you graduated?
I didn’t find value in college until after, especially once we started taking Toasted Life on the road. We had so much support across the country in different cities from Spel-house alumni who cared about what we were building and wanted to support. That showed me that the HBCU community is like no other community.
I thought I understood the value of college while I was there but my perspective changed soon after graduating. Originally I thought college was only about the books, and I overlooked what college had done for my network, confidence and personal development. College helped me grow in so many ways. It also helped me build a valuable network of friends and mentors that live across the country. These are individuals that I call on for business advice and vice versa.
What did your family think about your endeavors with Toasted Life?
My mom was my biggest supporter from the jump always imparting her corporate savviness and wisdom for Matt and I to think about as we grow and make decisions for the business, but early on overall, most of my fam just assumed this was a passion project and were not aware that it was a profitable venture that Matt and I intended to ultimately pursue full time; until we started getting some press or them physically coming to an event and seeing a large number of attendees. I still don’t think most of them know all that we do and have accomplished so far.
I think at first my parents may have had a hard time wrapping their heads around what Warren and I were truly trying to do, but they were always 100% supportive. I think their confidence continued to grow when they started getting phone calls from other families that had heard or read about what we had been building. A special moment for me was having the opportunity to host a Toasted Life event in Cleveland where I grew up. A lot of my childhood friends got a chance to come out as well as some of my family. Shortly after this event, Warren and I got featured in my hometown newspaper which was a great feeling.
What hurdles did you face and how did you overcome them?
As business owners, you face hurdles daily. All it takes is one decision to not go the way you hoped, but the cool thing is when one door closes several more seem to open. That’s God! The most important thing to keep in mind is that your past stumbles are all opportunities to learn.
Up until recently, Warren and I were running Toasted Life part-time. I was working a fulltime job at YouTube and Warren was working at Airbnb, both were very demanding jobs. Working two jobs meant that Warren and I had to work twice as hard and use our free time extremely wisely. We also knew our employers wouldn’t accept anything less than 100% from us. This just meant that our early mornings and late nights outside of our 9-5 would need to leverage for our brand. Our commutes, for example, were used for Toasted Life team check-ins and our short breaks during lunch were sometimes used to make conference calls from the parking lot. Even traveling for Toasted Life was a big challenge while balancing our full-time jobs. There were stretches where we were on the road for 10 weekends in a row. Events in NYC, for example, required us to take the Red eye out of SFO on a Friday night. That flight would get us to NYC around 6 am the next day. Since most hotels don’t allow you to check-in until later in the day, Warren and I would use this time to work or prepare for that evening’s event in the hotel lobby. The second we got the okay to check-in from the hotel, we were changing and off to the venue. 24 hours after landing in NYC, we were back on a 6-hour flight and headed California.
We learned that everything is a balancing act and our only option would be to choose between a full-time career in only tech or a full-time career pursuing Toasted Life.
Was the solution obvious or did you stumble into the answer?
Pursuing Toasted Life full time seemed like the obvious next step but we knew we would have to walk away from very generous tech salaries and a slew of Silicon Valley perks such as free food, amazing health benefits, and stock that were not going to make this decision easy. However, since making the leap the transition has been very rewarding. I have even begun to notice differences in my personal health.
Even though we have made more time for our business, we saw how quickly the time got filled right back up due to us prioritizing other areas of our business that we couldn’t before. The new challenge will be scaling up our team in 2020.
What do you hope to do with Toasted Life in the future?
We aim to be a global lifestyle-driven platform of like-minded individuals for multicultural communities of color.