James Norman – Founder of Piloty | Ep. 154

Welcome to another exciting and informative episode of the Data Gurus podcast!

Sima is happy to have James Norman, the CEO and Founder of Pilotly, joining her today.

In this episode, James talks about his varied career and highlights the difficulties he experienced as a person of color, raising investment capital. He also discusses his initiatives to help black founders raise money for their businesses and explains how Pilotly came about and why Pilotly is such an important company for the United States.

James’s career trajectory

James started his career selling video games. After that, he spent some time selling car audio and then started his first “real” company, MJH Sound.com, in 1995 and sold car audio online. After running that business for about four years, James went to the University of Michigan and got a degree in electrical engineering.


James’s audio business pivoted during that time, and they started creating custom parts and building unique cars for vehicle manufacturers.

Custom cars for movies

Then, in 2005, James moved to LA and started building custom cars for movies like The Fast and the Furious.

Video streaming

In 2008, when the recession hit, James got into streaming video. After encountering several challenges, he realized that most people could not do what he was doing. So he shifted away from the failing auto industry and seized the opportunity to create a streamlined video streaming product.

A product planner

James also spent some time working as a product planner for Mitsubishi and then went back to doing his own thing.

New ways of raising money

When his friend started Dropbox, it opened James’s eyes to new ways of raising money for companies. Before that, he had no idea of what it would take to get enough capital together to scale a team and build an organization.


James built Ubi, the first online electronic programming guide, and spent his time between 2008 and 2013 doing his best to convince people that nobody would have cable by 2020. Getting feedback from some high-level executives who shared his point of view encouraged James to keep on with what he was doing. He spent the next five or six years running Ubi and ran into many different problems during that time.

Becoming a shining star

In 2011, James applied for the NewMe program, designed to help people of color break into Silicon Valley. He got into the program, and that was his introduction to the San Francisco Bay Area. He was blown away by all the opportunities there, so he decided to stay on and become a shining star!

Software development

James spent a year working as a software developer for a publishing company and learned a lot about software structure. He also learned how toxic the development environment was because of people’s unconscious bias towards black people.


James learned that as a CEO, you need to communicate effectively.

No investment capital

After putting a rock star team together, James started pitching his ideas to potential investors. Some investors told him that if he could get the content contracts they would give him the money he needed. Even though he managed to get several content contracts for an electronic sell-through model he developed for a subscription TV service, including one from Warner Brothers, nobody ever showed up with any investment capital.

Testing content and starting Pilotly

James learned the necessary processes from experienced experts and started Pilotly because he needed to test pilot his content effectively with the right audience.

Creating a program for investment

James and his team knew all the right people, but nobody wanted to give them any funding. So they created a program to put the best people of color in front of potential investors and decided to call the investors out if they were still not willing to give them any funding after that.

Transparent Collective

Transparent Collective is a program that represents women and founders of color and helps them get the resources they need to scale their companies.

Helping others

James feels that he is in a position to help other black founders raise money because he has walked that path often, so he can see and hear exactly what other black founders are seeing and hearing.

Why Pilotly is one of the most important companies 

Culture is the biggest export from the United States. Media transmits the culture, and Pilotly defines what media goes on television. That means that Pilotly is in control of the biggest and most important export in the United States. That is why Pilotly has the potential to become the be-all and end-all in understanding the human condition and how we receive and transmit media.

The future of Pilotly

The future of Pilotly is all about further expanding the use of their product within the organization.

Their focus is also on enhancing their norms, getting them to a more granular level, and developing their normative data internationally.


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