Blavity aims to empower Black millennials and the proceeding generations by giving them a platform where they can share authentic stories. Launching a successful tech company is not an easy feat. More than one in five startups fail during their first year. 90% fail within a decade.
Millennials lag previous generations in amassing wealth. A lack of funds creates more challenges for entrepreneurs with original ideas. The US tech industry is also disproportionately white, which often leads to additional barriers for people of color.
Morgan DeBaun is helping to break down those barriers and give Black millennials an online platform where they can thrive. DeBaun launched Blavity in 2014 to allow underrepresented voices to share stories and news not covered by mainstream media. Four years later, the company secured $6.5 million in its latest round of funding.
Blavity is now a massive online ecosystem that reaches over 100 million people a year. The website alone attracts one million unique visitors each month. Here’s a closer look at how Blavity came to be and what the platform is doing to help propel Black millennials in business.
Who Is Morgan DeBaun?
Morgan DeBaun is the founder and CEO of Blavity, Inc. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990, making her part of the millennial generation. DeBaun attended the Washington University campus in St. Louis, Missouri. At college, she met the future co-founders of her company: Aaron Samuels, Jeff Nelson, and Jonathon Jackson.
Washington University is a primarily white institution. DeBaun and her friends noticed how Black people tend to gravitate toward each other in white spaces, which is how they found each other in the college cafeteria.
The four friends would sit and discuss everything from politics to popular culture. Their small group eventually attracted other Black students, reinforcing their concept of a type of “Black gravity.”
After college, the four went their separate ways. Samuels found work as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company. Nelson worked as an engineer at Palantir. Jackson worked at LinkedIn. DeBaun ended up at Intuit. She worked in product management and business development.
Giving a Growing Population an Online Voice
DeBaun and her college friends focused on their careers, but something was bothering them. They worked in primarily white offices where they noticed a lack of recognition of the political unrest occurring throughout the country.
Over 40% of millennials are people of color. Yet POC do not always feel that the mainstream media correctly portrays their cultures, communities, or opinions. Traditional social media platforms rely on carefully constructed algorithms to reinforce people’s interests and beliefs. This limits the ability of underrepresented groups to share their stories.
There is a disconnect between what has been portrayed in the media and what people experience in their communities. Morgan DeBaun and her college friends decided to do something about it. In the summer of 2014, the group started releasing a curated video newsletter before eventually building a website. They worked via Gmail, Asana, and Slack.
The name for the project came from their concept of Black gravity (Blavity = Black + Gravity).
From Part-Time Project to Full-Time Mission
DeBaun did not give up her day job after launching Blavity. She continued to work full-time at Inuit while spending all her free time on the site. The death of Michael Brown marked a turning point. On August 9th, 2014, an unarmed Michael Brown, Jr. was gunned down by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
The St. Louis area experienced civil demonstrations and protests, along with periods of unrest. However, DeBaun noticed that mainstream media was not painting a full picture of the story. She felt that there was a gap of information between what she saw on the ground and what she saw in the media, including from Black media companies. She quit her job and devoted herself completely to Blavity.
A year and a half later, the company opened its first office in Los Angeles. DeBaun, Samuels, and the rest of the team lived at the office. DeBaun and Samuels each had their own micro-apartment. Eating, living, and breathing revolved around Blavity.
The dedication of DeBaun and her co-founders shows what it takes to get an idea off the ground. You sometimes need to give everything to a project to succeed.
Raising Millions of Funding to Expand Their Platform
The team at Blavity continued to devote everything to their project, which paid off when they raised $1.86 million in a round of funding in April 2017. The funding came from Macro Ventures and New Media Ventures. In July 2018, the company raised another $6.5 million in new funding. The major investors included GV, Plexo Capital, Comcast Ventures, and Baron Davis Enterprises.
The funding has helped Blavity expand its reach and diversify its brand. The company launched a black women’s lifestyle platform called 21Ninety in 2017. 21Ninety comes from the idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit and 90 days for the habit to become a permanent lifestyle change. The website provides videos and articles on beauty, health, and fitness intended for a Black female audience.
Blavity also acquired two properties, Shadow and Act (a Black entertainment website) and Travel Noire (a Black travel website). These acquisitions give Blavity new channels for sharing authentic Black stories while providing new revenue streams.
The group at Blavity is also starting to notice a change in the media market. In the past, they struggled to find sponsors and clients willing to invest in a Black-owned platform. Blavity has now worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon, Microsoft, HBO, Netflix, Showtime, NBC, Google, BlackRock, and Facebook.
How Is Blavity Helping Black Millennials Thrive?
Blavity is providing an outlet where the Black population can share information without worrying about it getting buried in someone’s feed due to an algorithm. The company manages multiple brands and platforms, giving young entrepreneurs a variety of avenues for achieving success.
Along with the core Blavity website, the company owns and manages a travel website, lifestyle websites, and an entertainment website. Through Shadow & Act, Blavity is supporting a wide range of film and TV projects.
The company also launched the AfroTech conference and web platform. AfroTech provides entrepreneurs with the tactics and strategies needed to grow their businesses and products.
Where Does Blavity Go Next?
Blavity went from a video newsletter to a multi-million-dollar digital entertainment company in less than seven years. The company now has an office in a high-rise building in downtown LA, along with a team of 48 full-time employees.
After the round of funding in 2018, the company started work on opening a new office in Atlanta. The company is focused on expansion. The team at Blavity wants to increase their online footprint, which may include more acquisitions and big-name partnerships. However, DeBaun and Samuels do not want to lose sight of the company’s original mission to give Black millennials a platform for sharing stories and achieving their goals.
The bottom line is that Blavity is filling a gap created by a media system that tends to focus on clicks instead of truth. The honesty and hope provided by Blavity are likely to continue empowering Black millennials and future generations.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.