Formed in 2009, “Lowekey is a start-up studio” that “believes in starting small, thinking big, and scaling fast,” Lowekey’s website states. And Gregory Lowe II sits at the helm as the founder & CEO.
“We started with iFlypt, our first mobile app designed to remix music, and from there we started building for a number of celebrities and big companies, so it definitely has been a ride,” he told TNJ.com in a recent interview.
But it was his second app, Songbooth, one of the first video-based music apps on the market, that really put Lowekey on the map. “It came out before Instagram even had video. Launched in 2012, we had a million downloads in the first week, which was pretty cool, and we did a launch event at the Apple store in SoHo,” he says. “I guess you could say it solidified me in the space as being a visionary in technology. I wouldn’t call myself a visionary, but I think it made it known that I had some vision in putting a project together that makes sense for the culture. It drove me to really define what Lowekey wants to do for the rest of the days we’re in market.”
With the success of Songbooth came multiple magazine features, partnerships with high-profile companies such as Pepsi, and a celebrity partnership with Beyonce, among other opportunities, wherein Lowekey went to task on building apps for the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter. “It was really a jumping off point for me that happened a long time before this current wave of acceptance in the tech space,” he recalls. “It was back when African-Americans really didn’t have a voice at all. It’s still just one percent, but it’s starting to grow. I was really happy that we were able to partner with such big partners, and really grateful to Apple for giving me the platform to make it happen.”
Today, he’s working on his cannibinoid business, Lowekey Farms, which launches this month.
Lowe’s career began in PR under the tutelage of Amanda Brown Olmstead, a PR practitioner whose well-known family designed Central Park. From there, he worked in marketing and PR, and gained an understanding of what it takes to launch a brand before heading over to Myspace music where he learned about technology, which “opened my mind to the mobile space, and what it can do,” he says.
Below is my conversation with Lowe.
TNJ.com: What inspired the formation of Lowekey?
Gregory Lowe II: I wanted to create a technology company that was driven off the culture, meaning driven off the creativity of today’s society. We create products and services into independent businesses that basically jump into the vernacular of today. We like to look at the trends and see how we can apply that to consumer goods or technology and/or businesses that make sense.
TNJ.com: I read that you had no formal coding education when you launched the company. Are you self-taught, or did you hire people to do the coding? Generally, how did you get up to speed to be able to do the things you’re doing?
Gregory Lowe II: It started with just an idea, and a friend who lived nearby who helped me dive into what it took to learn code. I started with C ++ and Java Script, and basically taught myself. I also took a few classes at universities at night to learn more about coding, so I was able to learn the basics which allowed me to understand what goes into building a mobile technology product.
When it comes to the entrepreneurial side, those skills came naturally. Since college, I had been throwing events at the LSU campus to bring my fellow students together, but as far as tech goes, I had to learn the basics of the craft in order to build a business and a structure around me to hire people to do the heavy lifting as my ideas started to formulate.
TNJ.com: Tell me a bit about 100 Coconuts. Is that your latest venture?
Gregory Lowe II: It started as a side project and grew into something really big over the past year. We wanted to bring a product to market that really drove home authenticity in today’s world. Our vision was to create a beverage company that inspires and fulfills authenticity, so we came up with 100 Coconuts, with 100, of course, as the vernacular we talk about as “keeping it 100” and “keeping it real.” Everyone in the Millennial-Gen Z market, and even in mainstream, knows that phrase. In a years’ time, we came up with a very unique set of products: 100 Coconuts is the first coconut water that is tequila-infused, and it’s the first coconut water that’s CBD-infusued.
Since then, we’ve partnered with Tik-Tok, the social media network, and became the official drink of Tik-Tok; we’ve partnered with Karim Rashid, who is a very prolific hotel and furniture designer and artist overall; and we recently just launched the Black Lives Matter can, which I’m really proud of. It’s an internal project, and all proceeds go to BLM, and other African American non profits such as UNCF, etc.
TNJ.com: Tell me about Camp Lowekey Lab.
Gregory Lowe II: I started it six years ago with IBM. It’s a camp designed to teach kids how to become entrepreneurs, and get funding for their projects. We’ve done two cohorts so far, and we take minority high school students and teach them how to build mobile technology from, what we call, wireframe to beta. We also include an entrepreneurship element by teaching them how to pitch to investors. It’s a weeklong course; we allow them to create teams, and then they create a project which we develop into UIUX. Then we give them a platform to pitch to their peers, gain confidence and learn what it takes to build a business from start to finish.
Next year, I’m bringing it online nationwide.
TNJ.com: How did you yourself get funding for your first project?
Gregory Lowe II: There were a few guys I did events for when I was at MySpace. I brought my idea to the table, and they took a chance on me with a small investment of $150,000. It allowed me to get my project into market, and start generating revenue on that project. Since then, I’ve raised millions of dollars, and now have a larger network of great mentors and board members who’ve put me in touch with individuals who are interested in my business. It’s all about that warm handshake, and getting that introduction from someone who is trusting and understands the business.
TNJ.com: What gets your creative juices flowing?
Gregory Lowe II: I like to golf to relax. I think I am a creative person naturally, so it’s really about me taking a step back and having time for my mind to relax. I also like to travel and have been to tons of countries; last year, for example, I was able to visit four continents.
TNJ.com: What has been your biggest business lesson, and/or biggest disappointment so far?
Gregory Lowe II: Failure is key to success, and I’ve definitely had a ton of disappointing situations with the wrong business partners. You can have bad people who have unintended bad intentions or jealousy on your team, and that has allowed me to look at partnerships a little differently. There are even books out there you can read to make sure you are picking the right partnerships, and not bringing on dead weight. For example, I’ve brought on partners who I have taught how to make things happen. Then they leave the company, and try to go out and start the same company, or use my work to piggyback on.
As for business lessons overall, I would advise people to understand the back end of your business, understand the financial piece, have a data room that has everything about your business within a drop box file so that when you’re talking to investors you can just send it off letting them know you understand your business, bring on a knowledgeable CFO if you don’t understand it yourself, and understand the numbers. What will it take for you to become profitable? How much do you have to spend in order for a customer to try out your product? That is a big lesson.
TNJ.com: Is there anything you would like to see change in the tech landscape or in one of the industries you do work in?
Gregory Lowe II: In all industries, I would like to see more African Americans get more opportunities that are not afforded to us. Also, I see there’s a lack of community when it comes to the tech space. There are a lot of pockets: the in club and the out club, etc. but there’s no group designed to continuously push one another. I see that in other industries, but just not in the tech space.
TNJ.com: What attributes do you think a tech entrepreneur would need to have today to stand out and be stellar?
Gregory Lowe II: Drive, ambition and resilience. In tech and in the consumer business, you have to be resilient. If not, you’re going to stop and quit your project before it even gets going.
TNJ.com: What’s next for Gregory Lowe II?
Gregory Lowe II: This month, we’re launching a company called Lowekey Farms. We do products for CBD coffee cups, lotions, full spectrum shampoos, body wash, bath balm, etc. We have over 60 acres of land in Colorado where we cultivate some of the best marijuana in the world. Through our scientists, we’re able to break down our marijuana to the CBN level, and produce a THC-free CBD product on the market, which allows us to expand throughout the United States. We do wholesale leaf and plant products, and wholesale CBD isolates for companies that are trying to start their own businesses in the space. Over the next two to five years, I think the marijuana space is going to explode in the United States, so I’m really excited about Lowekey Farms.