“Mobile represents the single greatest opportunity for every industry right now,” says Sian Morson, founder and CEO of the Oakland-based digital development firm known as Kollective Mobile. Founded in 2010, the company works to streamline the mobile development process by providing clients with A to Z solutions for mobile applications. From creating a mobile newsfeed app for the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts to building a social media strategy for Arts.com Kollective Mobile’s portfolio is wide and varied.
Yet while her company remains rooted in the Bay Area, Sian is currently in Atlanta . In October, Sian launched Kollective South, a co-working community space where entrepreneurs, creatives and professionals can come to work and connect. Sian calls it a “communi-tech” center. Having conceived the idea and launched the space within a matter of three months, Sian describes the whirlwind push to launch as nothing short of harrowing. Nonetheless, she remains committed to the idea of building community around people who are passionate about technology. Offering classes in mobile ideation, html, and css programming at Kollective South, Sian hopes to bring together knowledge workers who can in turn educate the surrounding community.
In the beginning it was Sian’s experiences at home and abroad that led her to put her faith in mobile. Funding the business with her own savings, Sian found clients and secured talent. Initially choosing to outsource some of her work, Sian eventually hired locally, with past co-workers and acquaintances making up her first clients.
Morson says that she witnessed the beginnings of the mobile revolution while acquiring her masters at Middlesex University in London.
“I was just watching the evolution of what was happening there,” she remembers. “They were into texting before we were. Everyone was texting, people were barely making phone calls, and the phones were getting smaller, and I could see that trickling down to us here.”
Although time abroad helped lead Morson to the tech world, years of experience in advertising, and a Film & Television degree from NYU, contributed to Morson’s entrepreneurial outlook.
“In the past you could say an entrepreneur is someone who has their own business,” Morson says. “But I do think that intrapreneurs, people who work within larger organizations, are entrepreneurs as well. For me, being an entrepreneur involves some kind of risk,” said Sian. “Stepping out and taking some sort of a risk, whether personal or financial as it relates to business is what being an entrepreneur is about for me.”
Sian is the only African-American woman at her company of nine, yet that reality that doesn’t seem to phase her too much. She says that she focuses instead on creating quality work while acknowledging but not succumbing to such distinctions.“Racism exists, sexism exists, but I can’t let those things define me,” she says. “If I sat around worrying about those things all day I wouldn’t get anything done.”
And others agree. As Ann Brown of The Network Journal stated, “Sian Morson is defying the belief that black women can’t excel in the tech arena.”
Part of Sian’s current mission is to help redefine the structure of the urban neighborhood. Where community centers in urban areas of the past provided a safe haven for youth to engage in sports and stay out of trouble, Sian envisions centers in Oakland that are equipped to empower youth within the new digital landscape. “We don’t need to play basketball to stay off the streets anymore,” states Sian. “We need to learn computers, we need to learn mobile development, we need to learn how to build websites. This is a whole new digital economy, and we need to be competitive.”
While Sian hopes to expand Kollective South throughout the country in the future, she sees Oakland and the Bay Area as one of the primary hubs for technological advancement today. “[In The Bay Area] you have the involvement of the city and the state. They’ve changed the infrastructure to support start-ups by giving tax breaks,” she says. “Additionally, there are great universities, so all of these things conspire foster innovation.”
When considering the popularity of smartphones and their effects on interpersonal interaction, Morson reminds us that maintaining a balanced relationship with technology is essential. “It’s all about unplugging,” says Morson. “You have to unplug at some point. There are days when I have to get off of the computer and not check my device.” It’s critical to find that balance with unplugging and spending time without the technology.”
“Having a conversation is not a priority anymore,” relates Sian. “People don’t want to talk. They don’t know how to look someone in the eye and have a conversation because they’re so reliant on these devices. In terms of social responsibility there’s definitely a red flag there.”
As technology transforms life and work, human communication in turn evolves–and riding this wave is what it is all about for Sian.
Photo: Sian Morson by Amoa Photography