Sherrell Dorsey is the Founder and CEO of The Plug—a digital news and insights platform covering the Black innovation economy. Her work has been featured in VICE, The Washington Post, Seattle Times, The Information, and more. Sherrell has been a contributing writer for notable publications like Columbia Journalism Review, Fast Company, Black Enterprise, and others. In 2018, she was named an inspiring woman in tech by CNet and the most creative people in business by AdWeek in 2021. Prior to launching The Plug, Sherrell served as a Marketing Manager for companies like Uber and Google Fiber. She holds a Master’s degree in data journalism from Columbia University. She is the author of Upper Hand: The Future of Work for the Rest of Us, published by Wiley.
Sherrell Dorsey grew up in Rainier Beach in Seattle with her tight-knit family. She says her mother was vital in fostering her curiosity while growing up. Sherrell adds, “My mom would take us to Barnes & Noble bookstore to read/buy books. It opened up my access to learning and being curious about various topics.” Today, this curiosity helps Sherrell be inventive and explore the world from the viewpoint of others and through different experiences.
While her technophile grandfather cultivated her love for technology by buying Sherrell her first computer when she was eight years old, she recalled fondly, “I was only one of the few of my peers who had a computer at home.” This early foray into technology defined her love and interest in the industry. She says, “I learned how to utilize the internet when personal computers were just emerging in homes.”
During the program, she was mentored by Black computer scientists and informatics experts like Trish Milines Dziko, Zithri Saleem, and others that gave her an insight into the innovative minds of the black community.
The program helped her land consecutive summer internships at Microsoft starting at 14 throughout her high school career. Sherrell loved her experiences at Microsoft, learning about building tech products and realizing she could have a place at the tech table.
However, after high school, with her family expecting her to get a degree in computer science, she moved in a different direction. She studied fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I got to study the business of marketing within the fashion world, a multi-billion-dollar industry, and one that encompasses so much technology from textile selection and forecasting to building an e-commerce business and brand.”
Sherrell took those marketing skills and went on to work at some of the leading companies globally, including both Uber and Google Fiber. But while she loved her day job, Sherrell was drawn to the tech world and wanted to understand it from the vantage point of the Black community and its impact globally. “I would keep up on industry literature and read about these great profiles of Gates, the Musks, and the Zuckerbergs. But I did not see the folks I was interacting with and engaging with daily quoted or profiled. And the journalism to me just felt very one-sided. It did not identify geniuses looking like, sounding like, feeling like, or coming from communities that looked like mine, but those were the people I was inspired by.”
Sherrell says, “I remember waking up early before heading to my job at Uber or Google Fiber and curating articles about ‘folks whom I find really fascinating.'” She continued, “I soon wrote about Black tech innovations and submitted stories to publications like Fast Company. By trying to show the robustness of these communities of innovation and coming up with cool ideas to solve specific challenges that they were facing that were being left out of this mainstream sort of noise. Like, sure, robots are good, but here’s a guy who’s creating an app to exchange vegetables and fruits with neighbors on a more human level.”
That led to the genesis of The Plug—with a $10 domain registration and a free MailChimp account. Sherrell built up subscribers one at a time based on her solid reputation as the tech journalist who covered Black start-ups.
The organization has since helped define the significance of Black Innovation Data for the world (Fortune 1000 and 500 companies) that were previously overlooked or didn’t have access to the intelligence needed to make investment decisions that are now more inclusive due to their work. She says, “It’s just about being consistent and serving my audience well. Beyond that, every subscriber truly earns through this sense of trust and representative storytelling, care and adoration, and sometimes, you know, harsh honesty.”
However, she has faced her fair share of problems during this journey; she says, “Facing the recession and a pandemic while starting a business is hard, but those hardships teach you how to adapt and reinvent yourself.” But Sherrell has successfully overcome and established her empire during one of the most turbulent times in history and watched it expand and grow with her meticulous storytelling and insights about the industry.
Sherrell’s most recent venture is her new book, Upper Hand: The Future of Work for the Rest of Us, published in January 2022. She described it as a love letter to her grandfather. She says, “I drew from his experience of moving from Birmingham, Alabama, to Detroit and finally to Seattle where ‘there weren’t many folks who looked like him.’ I wanted to illustrate my own experience along with Seattle’s changes, and how that was replicated across the country in a way that left many communities overlooked.”
Upper Hand offers guidelines, insights, and frameworks for navigating the new world of work dominated by Silicon Valley-rooted technologies, inaccessible networks, and constant automation that continues to slash jobs in the Black and Latinx population, thereby empowering these communities to rise beyond these limitations.
Due to her inclusive work in the industry and empowering the black community, she has received numerous awards. Including Adweek Most Creative People in Business, Media Innovators, Adweek 2021, Tech Champion of the Year Award, Black Enterprise Magazine, for work advancing Black tech entrepreneurship and skill-building in the city of Charlotte (2019), Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation REALITY Tech Fellow 2019, innovation immersion in Israel with 50+ global leaders in technology (2019), amongst others.
In conclusion, her advice for other budding leaders is, “Always trust yourself and your team,” and your business will flourish.