how i get it done

From Drake’s Entourage to Tech CEO

Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Courtne Smith is an innovator you need to know. Born and raised in Toronto, Smith has always wanted to launch and grow her own businesses. And with over a decade of experience working in entertainment on Drake’s management team, her entrepreneurial spirit blossomed. Alongside her business partner, Filip Diarra, Smith has founded a hair-extension line called Tharen, a giveaway game app called Suprize, and her latest development, NewNew, a social decision-making app that lets you vote to control the outcome of other people’s lives. Can you say ‘Next Level’ social experience? She lives in California and is a proud dog mom. Here’s how she gets it done.

On a typical morning:
I would love to say that I am one of those people who wakes up at 6 a.m. regularly, but let’s be real. That’s not my life. The truth is, sometimes I go to bed at 1 a.m. and sometimes I go to bed at 5 a.m., so that heavily impacts how my next morning is going to go. I usually try — I try — to workout for 40 minutes a few mornings a week. Every morning I’ll knock out my emails and catch up with my team before tackling whatever else is on my to-do list. Of course, I do the basic things like washing my face and take a shower. I’m not a complete barbarian. I also love writing the things I need to do down on paper. I’m like a weird psycho who needs to cross it out with a marker to feel satisfied. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I do need to add that I need to take a shower on my list, but pretty much my mornings are kind of the same.

On a standard (pandemic) workday:
Right now we’re working remotely. The team is seven people including myself and my co-founder, Filip Diarra, so we’re still a pretty small group and a pretty young startup. Honestly, there’s no standard of what our workday is like, because we are forced to juggle new and different things that didn’t exist the day before. That’s just how it goes, especially when the team is so small and everyone needs to jump into new things and figure things out. But one thing that definitely weaves itself into every single day is my co-founder and I communicating with our engineers. We’re working on a tech product, so we always have to figure out updates, or work on features and make sure people are hitting their deadlines to get new features out. Besides that, no two days are ever alike for us. It’s cool, because it kind of keeps us on our toes, and it’s unpredictable. It’s a lot more fun than knowing exactly what you have to do every single day in advance.

On her app, NewNew: 
My co-founder and I, we’ve been obsessed with voting and making decisions for years at this point. And we’ve always been fascinated by products in China and Japan because they do a really great job over there thinking outside the box and taking risks. The biggest differentiator is that they focus on people’s emotions opposed to just dry transactional offerings, which is what we see a lot of here in North America. From our app Suprize, we realized there was something interesting and even bigger to tap into around voting and decision-making. We all want to give our two cents and be opinionated, so we took Suprize and turned it into NewNew. With NewNew you essentially become a stakeholder in a person’s life, because they are giving you the ability to have a say in things they should do. Someone recently got a dog after spending years debating it because they were too afraid. They literally got a dog because everyone voted on it. We’ve found that it turns the average person into a very entertaining one just inherently because you can control the things that they do. For us, it’s about building a platform that is immersive and extremely interactive, where both sides, the people creating and the people who are users participating, feel rewarded and feel entertained.

On her constant grind:
As an early-stage founder, it’s a never-ending sprint. You’re sprinting 24/7. Even if you’re on a break, you’re kind of not, because you still need to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. I feel like the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that being a founder-entrepreneur is not just a normal or typical job that you can punch in and punch out of. It’s a real commitment, and you have to stick with it. The hours might not be ideal for you, but that’s why this field is what it is, and a lot of people don’t choose to go down this route because it is unpredictable. For me, I really do love what I do, and I only take a break if I feel like I need one. I don’t plan my breaks. If I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to do it. If I do want to do it, I’m going to. For example, after this interview I’m going to go to Universal Studios and go on the Harry Potter ride; it’s a fun way to decompress for two or three hours, then I’ll come back and finish my work because we have a lot of stuff going on right now. I’m also a big believer in taking naps. I feel like taking naps is a game-changer and everyone should take a nap when they feel like it — that’s what I do, too.

On navigating being a Black woman in the tech:
I didn’t even know that being a Black woman in tech was something that I would ever have problems with. I didn’t come from the tech industry. I came from entertainment, and when I entered into tech with Suprize and we needed to get funding for it, I just cold emailed people who were investing in other consumer products. I never took the time to really research that Black women pretty much don’t raise money and that it’s not a thing for us to build the next big consumer product because we just don’t have the same opportunities. I didn’t know there was such a struggle. I didn’t know that the statistics were the way they were, and I’m honestly happy that I didn’t because that probably would have deterred me or freaked me out getting started. I would have been very scared to enter the market and probably would’ve lost a lot of confidence, so I would almost say my ignorance was bliss coming in. Being a Black woman in tech to me at least means you need to show up and you need to kill it. You can’t play the victim and you can’t look for pity, because unfortunately at the end of the day we need to work harder and we need to prove to ourselves and to other people that we belong here, that we belong here based on merit, and based on the value that we bring. And not just because we’re Black or because we’re females. I feel like that has been the biggest thing for me. I’ve also looked at myself as equal to anyone else and that thinking has been working in my favor, so far.

On end-of-day decompressing:
For the past two months, I have been playing this app called Royal Match where you match up shapes and make things explode; it’s something a 5-year-old would do, but I play it every night for 15 to 30 minutes before I go to bed. For some reason, the game is therapeutic to me even though it is kind of stressful. I just have so much fun, and I pass out with my phone on my chest.

From Drake’s Entourage to Tech CEO