In a time where the most iconic traditional platforms for black entertainment and culture face evident declines in revenue and patronage, a void has opened for a millennial-driven media outlet to emerge and represent the progressive voice of today’s generation. As Hip Hop culture continues to expand its global influence, the intersection of content and technology presents a unique opportunity to shape a new narrative around what young African Americans consider cool, cutting edge, and aligned with their diverse lifestyles.
Since the definitive shift into digital media, extensive studies have concluded that African American millennials consume more content than any other demographic, are the most mobile-obsessive, and further prove to be the most active users on social media platforms. This information would suggest that big brands, marketers, and business leaders alike would place a priority on developing innovative ways to capture such a thriving audience. Dominant brands like BuzzFeed are actively capitalizing on contemporary trends, such as viral videos, comedic memes, and real-time reports on pop culture moments. However, despite reaching millions daily, the many nuances that define black people and black culture are rarely accounted for. Now, one rapidly growing media and tech company is blazing an impressive trail for these companies to follow.
Founded in July of 2014 by 24-year-old Silicon Valley veteran Morgan DeBaun, and 25-year-old Co-Founder Aaron Samuels, Blavity is a thriving tech and multimedia company serving as the standout voice of black millennials. Offering a seamless mix of humor, critical commentary and valuable thought-leadership – the platform covers the full spectrum of content, tech and culture. Boasting an increasing total of over 120,000 followers across social media, while generating over 700,000 monthly unique visitors to its flagship site – Blavity has become a commonly referenced source of news and information for notable influencers across industries.
I spoke with Morgan about what inspired the company, her vision behind the brand, and how Blavity is laying the blueprint for other tech savvy creators and digital entrepreneurs to adopt.
The idea for Blavity birthed from your experience in college – describe how the concept originated and evolved?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch. When I was younger, I would look for opportunities to make money, invest, and create things. I didn’t quite know where that would take me, but I knew that I wanted to create something that would be a reflection of who I was. Blavity is a manifestation of just that. The founding team and I went to Washington University in St. Louis, a predominately white institution (PWI). During our time at Washington University, there was a particular place where all of the Black students would sit together; and that was at the lunch table. Like in many groups and ethnicities in culture, food and gathering makes people feel comfortable and at home despite the fact that they may be amongst people they don’t know. That lunch table is where the idea and the term ‘Blavity’ originated. We would sit down, then another person would sit down, and then another 2 or 3 people would sit down. Then, before we knew it, there would more than 20 of us sitting there for hours. We would skip class and talk about critical race theories, what the Alphas did at the party, or whatever it may be. That moment when everyone would come to the table from different classes, parts of the country, and ethnicities of the diaspora – that was Black Gravity, or Blavity.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early stages and how have they evolved over time?
The biggest challenge has been articulating my vision in a way that people can understand. When people used to ask me about Blavity, I would tell them the big picture and it confused people. For example, someone who just follows us onTwitter TWTR +0.00% might describe Blavity’s products and services differently than someone who is on our weekly email newsletter. I had to get comfortable early on understanding how people perceived Blavity, and me, based on their interaction with our content or community. Our team had to be crystal clear about who we were serving and our mission so that our community knew what to rely on us for.
In the midst of intense conversations surrounding racism, injustice and senseless violence — what role does Blavity play in impacting or shaping the narrative?
Blavity’s role is to connect our community with different perspectives and influencers. We reach out to organizers, and promote stories that may otherwise go untold by mainstream media publishers. Our community is diverse — often times we have opposing viewpoints on the site, but ultimately Blavity is about providing access to information and alternative voices.
What would you describe as the definitive turning point — when you knew Blavity was a respected brand and voice in the space?
There were two points. First, when things would happen in culture, members of the black community started to tag and mention Blavity to make sure we had seen it. They would tag us next to BET, The Root, Buzzfeed, and Vox – brands that are big hitters with 7+ years on us. The second turning point is when I started getting inbound emails from big brands wanting to work with us. I knew we were starting to reach beyond our peers in to new spaces.
You’ve been in Silicon Valley and worked in the tech space, but have managed to build Blavity without any venture funding to this point — was that an intentional decision and what was your thought process behind it?
Yes, it was absolutely intentional, and in a lot of ways necessary. Bootstrapping Blavity has given the team and I the space to build a strong foundation without distractions. Blavity is a reflection of the love and passion of hard working millennials across the country. This reflects Millennials who go to Harvard Law and Spelman, contributors who are Rhodes scholars, community organizers, poets and investment bankers. Before I could take anyone else’s money, I wanted to not just tell the story about how Blavity could be a huge business, but also show the story. We’ve successfully accomplished that goal.
So many studies show millennials obsess over celebrity and pop culture — what kept you from positioning Blavity as an entertainment news platform?
Celebrity culture and gossip would get us website clicks, but I just don’t feel like it makes the world a better place. I want to spend my time creating, developing and challenging new ideas that will truly drive the culture forward.
Being both a tech company and content company, how does that give you a unique advantage in the space?
I think the best new age companies aren’t doing just one thing. Uber isn’t just a taxi company, and Buzzfeed isn’t just a media company. Building technology and rapidly iterating on ideas is important to creating a strong foundation for any company trying to make it in today’s world. Blavity is disrupting existing media companies by thinking about digital culture first , and there’s no doubt this has accelerated our growth.
While content is King, the current media gold rush is data — how important is thoroughly tracking your analytics and having the infrastructure to collect and repurpose that information?
We track our analytics every hour. Knowing our customer is incredibly important to creating a better experience with our content and social channels. With great data we can work with partners to design unique experiences that make a very specific and effective impact.
What makes Blavity a valuable company, to both the culture and major corporations looking to connect with black millennials?
Blavity is authentically engaging in culture, and we really know what will resonate with our community. 53% of the Black population is under the age of 35. Additionally, 81% of African-Americans are more likely to show support for a favorite brand using social media, and 76% are more likely to share opinions by posting reviews and ratings online (nielsen). Major corporations and agencies who aren’t paying attention to Black millennials are simply missing out on a huge business opportunity.
Blavity has launched a series of extensions — such as Blavity Lifestyleand Black Girl Magic — what inspired you to create additional platforms for niche segments of your audience?
Blavity is about bringing people together and building community. To be successful, we need to meet our people on the platforms where they hang out on a daily basis. For our demographic, that means Instagram, their inboxes, Twitter, and Snapchat. We are consistently thinking about how to tell a story that is unique to that platform, not just copy and pasting content. We’ve focused less on driving traffic to the website, and more on deepening our relationships with our users on existing platforms.
What are the biggest myths or misconceptions surrounding the idea of young black entrepreneurs creating tech or content companies, especially in Silicon Valley?
Many people don’t see all the missed happy hours, early mornings and consistent executing that founders put in to be successful. Despite the articles seen in Techcrunch or VentureBeat, most people fail, and those who are succeeding are busting their butts to stay on top. Silicon Valley, Detroit or St. Louis, the best thing someone can do is just start. Stop reading Quora posts, plotting and thinking and just start!
|Written By:||Julian Mitchell|
Photo courtesy of Blavity