Back in the Saddle
2017. Barely out of my early twenties, I founded Rainway. I wanted to build a better way to access and play games. If someone had told me then about this journey’s spectrum of emotions, I might have brushed it off. But living it was a symphony of highs and lows, crescendos and decrescendos.
In the early days, I worked from the quiet of my apartment, where every line of code was a step towards realizing my dream. This humble beginning eventually led to the bustling energy of an office, with the echoing footsteps of over 25 individuals – each voice filled with hope, ambition, and unyielding trust in my vision. Their gaze on me reminded me of responsibility, an empowering and daunting commitment.
Navigating the venture capital world as a Black founder added unique hurdles to the Rainway journey. After raising our seed round, I found myself among a meager group of less than 180 Black founders who had done the same. When I raised our next round, this number had shrunk drastically, with a list that contained fewer than 20 names. The index had my former boss above me and my best friend directly below, underscoring the intimate and rarefied circle of Black entrepreneurs in tech. It’s a somber note to acknowledge the 50% drop in VC dollars to Black startup founders in 2022, the same year we closed Rainway’s doors. And while I encountered a myriad of supportive VCs, there were instances of racism that left an unmistakable message: “You don’t belong here.” These moments only fueled my determination to forge ahead and make a difference.
Despite these hurdles, Rainway blossomed into a tapestry of unforgettable moments. There were nights when dawn approached, and we were still in the office, inching closer to a launch. Moments of collective laughter eased the tension after hours of debugging a minor glitch that felt monumental. And then there was the memorable time we tactically hunted down and cornered Xbox leadership at DICE, persuading them to reinstate our app on the Xbox store after its unexpected removal (that’s a story for another day.)
Rainway was a nexus for passionate visionaries. Individuals who left their secure jobs or even dropped out of school were all drawn by our mission’s allure. As time passed, I watched with pride as many from our team launched their startups, secured their dream jobs, bought their first homes, and even released successful indie games. Their time at Rainway wasn’t just a stint; it was a catalyst for their ambitions.
The pandemic, however, cast a shadow we hadn’t anticipated. The world felt like shifting sands and every decision felt heavier. And amidst global chaos, personal pain intertwined with the searing images of racial injustice. It became a challenge to balance leadership with the heaviness in my heart, always toeing the line between using my voice and the repercussions it could bring.
Weathering the storm of the pandemic and shouldering the weight of that leadership at 25 took a toll on me. Still, I guided Rainway and its team to the other side. As the dust began to settle, a pivot behind us, after years apart, the time was ripe for a retreat. It was more than a simple gathering; it was a crescendo of months, even years, of virtual collaborations. Encounters filled with laughter, shared stories, and interwoven dreams took on a deeper resonance. For many, it was the first face-to-face meeting, celebrating our collective journey and the adversities we conquered. Yet, within the vibrancy and jubilation, there was an undertone of melancholy. This is a moment that belongs to another world. One where cycles close, and stories end. Where there are heroes, and the heroes win. A moment like this has no business in our world. This confluence of emotions marked a reunion and a bittersweet farewell.
Though we battled against many storms, the bear market was our fiercest challenger. But Rainway was far more than a casualty of market conditions. We didn’t merely participate in the industry; we transformed it. We breathed life into a market that many saw as a graveyard, crafting technology that served and enabled entirely new product categories. Giants like Microsoft harnessed our technology to power Xbox Cloud Gaming. Startups and global conglomerates built upon our platform, introducing fresh, transformative products. We ushered in a new era of gaming and were well on our way to revolutionizing the computing landscape. At its core, Rainway brought unparalleled joy to millions and empowered developers and companies during times they needed it most. Our legacy is not just about overcoming challenges; it’s about the groundbreaking ways we altered the game and impacted lives.
It has been just over a year since we shut down, which has left me with a lot of time to reflect. Summarizing and illustrating years of experiences, lessons, and memories in this format is challenging, so I’ll just say this - I’m proud of what we accomplished and how far we got.
Recently, someone asked me: “Given your accolades as a Thiel Fellow, your recognition in Forbes 30 Under 30, and the myriad of achievements under your belt, why would you ever dive back into the relentless world of startups? You can do anything.” At its core, the answer is uncomplicated: I am unreservedly, unapologetically in love with the game. With every pitch, every late-night coding session, and every ounce of hustle, I find myself drawing parallels to the greats like Jordan, LeBron, or Brady. For a nerd, a dreamer like me, this relentless drive to build and innovate is the closest I come to standing in their shoes, feeling the weight of an entire stadium’s expectations, and shooting that buzzer-beater.
But here’s a truth: While everyone gets their moment under the sun, their shot to play and dream, in the real world, victories are often cornered by a chosen few. Yet, the beauty of hope is its universality. It’s free, unrestricted, and resilient. An expansive universe of untapped markets is waiting to be defined, myriad problems begging for solutions, and countless lives that can be touched and improved through innovation. And I’m all in as long as there’s a glimmer of beauty in that quest, a hint of hope for a brighter, better future. Building, founding, and dreaming – that’s my playbook, and I’m sticking to it.
The battle scars from years of building Rainway are not a deterrent from getting back in the saddle; they’re a compass for the future, a roadmap of what to do and, often, what not to do.
So, in 2023, I’ve set my sights on another challenge: a better way to build APIs. For those curious about this next chapter, sign up for updates here.
As the pages turn towards 2024, I’m back in the saddle, gearing up for another venture. Before I delve into this new challenge, a heartfelt thank you goes out to the Rainway team, our steadfast investors, my supportive community, and everyone who believed in our vision. Your belief and backing were paramount.
Stay tuned for what’s next.