I'm the Founder & CEO of Blavity, a news company and media brand for black millennials and Gen Z – Morgan DeBaunFeatured

Hi Elpha!I’m the Founder & CEO of Blavity Inc. Since our launch in 2014, we’ve acquired Travel Noire, a travel platform for black millenials and Shadow And Act, a black entertainment news site. We also launched several profitable consumer summits, including Summit 21 for black women creators and entrepreneurs and Bay Area’s AfroTech, the largest tech conference for Black innovators and founders.We are the leading news company and media brand for Black millennials + Gen Z in the U.S. that reaches over 30M millennials a month. We’ve raised over 9 million in funding and have built a team of more than 75 employees and 100 contractors nationwide. I am also the founder of M.Roze Essentials, a natural skin care line and WorkSmart, an advising program teaching small business owners how to scale their business. Before founding Blavity Inc., I worked on product management and business development at Intuit. I have a BA in Political Science, Entrepreneurship and Education from Washington University in St. Louis.Ask me anything about building a media brand, building a brand for a millennial and Gen Z audience, putting together a conference, growing your startup, or acquiring other startups.
Thanks so much for joining us for an AMA this week, Morgan! Morgan will be answering your questions before the end of the week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
How did you grow your email list for Blavity?
Love Blavity! I'm curious how you convinced people to fund you, or if you were even able to at first. I remember hearing that the founder of The Muse had a really hard time convincing people that there was a millennial working female audience. I can only imagine that being more difficult to focus on black people. Did you have to create and build without any funding until you proved there was an audience? What was that process like?
Jessica if you really need funding I'll help you out make your own money
I focused on building a great business before going out to venture capital. too often founders raise before they are ready or before their business is worth investing in. I boostrapped Blavity for a year with my own money and grew the audience to 1M unique visitors before raising because I knew that investors would be skeptical of the business case. It was hard but the result was a higher valuation and investors who really understood what I was trying to do!
@morgandebaun How did you grow the audience? How did you reach people? I'm super curious about this as I am currently trying to grow the audience for my startup as well. Are there any resources you recommend? Is there a masterclass? I'd love to learn more.
Love this question can't wait to read the feedback!
Looking forward to hearing you speak at the small business summit next month too! In the meantime, please could you provide some insight into how you successfully manage your time across your different companies without feeling overwhelmed or burnt out? Thank you
A few tactics I use to manage my time:1. Batch Working2. Reviewing my calendar on Sunday evenings and moving things around to be efficient.3. Holding team meetings and 1:1s on Mondays and Tuesdays so that everyone has what they need to get their work done that week.4. Dedicating time to working on my business (as the CEO) vs in the business (as an operator).
Thank you for answering Morgan! They all sound like great strategies/tips
Hi Morgan,Firstly, congrats! I love Blavity and appreciate what you have created!A few questions from me:1. Did you focus on building your individual brand on social media before creating and growing Blavity and your other businesses?2. How long did you wait until you hired content creators to contribute to Blavity?3. What advice do you have to those of us blogging/ creating content alongside a full-time job.Thanks a lot :)
1. Company brand first always. My brand is not a priority at all. 2. Immediately. That was the first thing I did when we decided to build a content platform. 3. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish. A career as a blogger is very difficult. Focus on what product you can sell with your audience and monetization vs. just growing a large following. Get to the revenue Rachael!
Thank you Morgan, very helpful 🙌🏾
I am founder of Tech Disability Project, a platform for increasing representation of people with disabilities who work in the tech industry. I would love to know more about starting a conference, particularly when it comes to structure and financing. Would corporate sponsorships be enough to support a conference launch or does it make sense to raise money for the company as well? Are there any particular resources you recommend? I'd love any direction you have when it comes to starting out.
I recommend that you design your conferences for the attendees first (before considering the sponsors). The best way to make a conference profitable is this equation: Conference expenses should be less than total expected revenue from ticket sales. If a startup can't figure out how to make a conference at least break event with JUST their attendees they shouldn't do it!
Thanks so much for this perspective, Morgan!
Hi Morgan! My questions are around brand partnerships:1. In the early stages, how did you go about choosing who to partner with? Did you all have a framework established?2. What key metrics were important when you were pitching those brand partnerships?3. If brands what to partner exclusively, what are some of the ways you structure the deal?
1. We went after anyone who had money and was in alignment with our values. 2. We focused on the value our community could provide and how it would help that company with their goals (reaching black millennials). 3. We charge more for exclusivity in a vertical for a certain amount of time.
Congrats on all of Blavity’s success! I’m wondering what methods you use to gain new users and how your methods differed before/after you acquired Travel Noire and Shadow and Act? Thanks!
1. We do giveaways and content sponsorships with other brands who have a similar audience.2. We focus on our most engaged users and ways to encourage them to share3. We work with influencers and micro influencers to ensure our content stays fresh, reaches new audiences and always at the pulse of culture.4. No changes after the acquisitions. We used our existing frameworks and process for these new brands and the growth has been insane since we acquired them!
Thanks so much for your time and response!
This is a great intro, thanks for posting Morgan! I've been recently following the waves you've been making the US and it's pretty inspiring. As a black woman who's travelled to 49 countries and counting (I used to work on a cruise ship), Travel Noire is understandably one of my favourite brands.My travel adventures also led me to found - A platform that elevates black stylists (hair and beauty) to manage their businesses and black customers to find a stylist for our hairtype wherever they may be, worldwide. At the moment, we're launched on question is around the early stages of your business and specifically focusing on launching a product for your audience. How did you first spread the word about Blavity and do you have any advice on network effects and getting your product in front of your ideal customer base?
1. Content consistency2. Content frequency3. Influencer and organic content sharing from platforms that are 2x as big as your audience (don't aim too high when doing content partnerships).4. Content quality should be better than your peers.
How did you go about recruiting employees in the beginning when you were bootstrapped vs now? How did you know for sure potential employees could be as passionate and committed to Blavity as you were?
In the beginning I spoke to the mission of the company and the movement I was trying to build. I also hired non traditional candidates and people with little experience but who were down to work hard. I always strive to lead by example and sit right next to the people doing the work every day. As an early stage founder with limited resources this was critical that you share your passion and commitment with those you are trying to recruit.
Hey Morgan, I would love for you to check out my interview with David Andolfatto, Economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. Great topics and conversation. I interview global leaders in the crypto and entrepreneurial space and would love to get involved to moderate or host a fireside chat at one of your conferences to help inform more of Fintech, crypto and Bitcoin. Youtube:
Will do!
Thank you I appreciate it. May you PM how one may be involved at your next conference as a moderator/fireside chat host on the subject of crypto/blockchain? Thank you Morgan!
Hi Jules! I'd recommend you DM Morgan for ideas on how you two can collaborate at one of her conferences. The virtual Office Hours is an opportunity for all of us to learn and benefit from your question to Morgan. Let me know if you have any questions about that. Thanks!
Thank you for the insight Kuan, have any of these questions been answered publicly as of yet? I am having trouble finding the responses to them, also I will be sure to always direct message prior to inquiring for an opportunity from the office hours participants.
Hi Jules! Morgan hasn't answered the questions yet - she will do so later this afternoon.
Awesome, I am looking forward to the valuable responses!
@morgandebaun Can you describe the benefits of strategic partnerships?I help small business owners set up collaboration campaigns with podcasts, bloggers and facebook group owners, yet I would love for you to share/preach on, the value of developing relationships with people who already have access to your best buyers.
Hey Morgan! Thanks so much for the Blavity platform, and all that you do to promote people of color in media and tech. I'm the founder of Baddies in Tech - a media and community platform built to help women of color transition into and thrive in tech. We are very much content and information driven, so I'd like to know how you would go about building a strong team of content contributors to create around the different tech careers available to us as women of color. Thanks in advance!
Thank you so much for this AMA. In the new media space with falling advertising revenues, and Facebook and Instagram killing organic reach of Pages.. - Do you have any advice for building an audience without having to resort to clickbait, or pandering to one agenda / narrative? - Related to that, any advice on branding / PR to build a diverse audience for policy topics? - What are the more sustainable business models for media if not fully reliant on advertising? Paid customers? Or are there other models you would advise?
So good to see someone do something unique in the media industry. I'm an Indian founder and soon launching a media app next month. My question is - what do you think of user-generated content? Do you think it'll be the future of all media? Also, is there any scope of innovation in news media globally? I'd love for you to check out our app next month if possible, I'm at [email protected] in case you'd like to know more.
Hey Morgan!Great to have you here! I have a few questions around building a media brand in the most successful way possible and also acquiring brands. 1. What led you to want to acquire Travel Noire and ShadowAct? Do you feel owning multiple media brands is the way forward? 2. For someone starting a new media brand what are the three non negotiable most important steps to take in order to succeed? 3. You have mentioned word of mouth is what grew the brand, did you take any particular action that kicked off the conversation around Blavity? Eg email your contact list 4. Before you ran the conference for 21ninety did you start with small community events or just launch a large scale event? Should more media brands be adding IRL/community aspects to their model?Thanks!
Do you know Zach Nunn at Living Corporate? You two might be able to help each other. Let me know if you'd like an intro.