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How Blavity razor Raised $12 Million dollor For Media Start-Up Morgan DeBaun ( Inspiring and Women entrepreneur can change the world , example of women empowerment)

 How Blavity razor Raised $12 Million dollor For Media Start-Up Morgan DeBaun ( Inspiring and Women entrepreneur can change the world , example of women empowerment)


Blavity’s razor-sharp founder Morgan De Baun has an incredible backstory—she was an early investor in Tesla and Facebook, graduated at the top of her class at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and was hired off of a LinkedIn post at Intuit in Silicon Valley where she quickly rose through the ranks. Then she left it all to start a media company geared toward Black millennials called Blavity—and she did all of this before her 30th birthday.


How Blavity razor Raised $12 Million dollor For Media Start-Up Morgan DeBaun ( Inspiring and Women entrepreneur can change the world , example of women empowerment)
Image of Blavity razor 


There were several factors that were building up to her decision to leave Intuit, but the final straw came on the day Mike Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri and she was dismayed by the lack of coverage by Black media as the story broke.


She teamed up with her friends Aaron Samuels, Jeff Nelson and Jonathan Jackson (who has since transitioned out of the company). But soon she found another challenge—less than three percent of women get venture funding each year, and for Black women— it’s less than one percent.


Despite all odds, here’s how Morgan DeBaun built an influential media empire reaching one of the most important and overlooked groups of our day—Black millennials.


Blavity's founder Morgan DeBaun has an incredible backstory.

She was an early investor in Tesla and Facebook, graduated at the top of her class from Washington University in St.

Louis, Missouri, was hired off of a LinkedIn post at Intuit in Silicon Valley, where she quickly rose through the ranks.

Then she left it all to start a media company geared towards Black millennials called Blavity, a combination of the words black and gravity.

There are three numbers to look out for in this story.

Half of one percent, 250,000 and 12 million.

Awesome. Let's start.

Here's how Morgan Debaun built an influential media empire, reaching one of the most important and overlooked groups of our day, Black millennials.

For CNBC, I'm Nate Sked.


This is Founder Effect.

To understand Morgan's rise, you have to understand a little bit about her hometown, St.

Louis, Missouri. St.

Louis' metropolitan area, is basically divided into two distinct regions, the working class neighborhoods of North County and the affluent ones in

West County. In the early 90s, white flight saw a lot of families move out of North County to the sprawling suburbs of West County.

As North County grew more diverse, the suburbs to the west grew wider.

Morgan grew up in those suburbs.

I had a very diverse upbringing.

I switched schools quite a bit and I think that really gave me a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to manage ambiguity, being able

to make new friends, being able to code switch between different cultures and different conversations and socioeconomic backgrounds.

You know, that's really interesting.

Code switching and how you learn to kind of navigate the different worlds at a young age, probably so young that it became natural to you.

Yeah I was that way growing up my whole life.

So they used to call me a county brownie because it was rare that Black people lived in the county.

So there was this weird dynamic where my neighbors didn't look like me.

My friends at school didn't live near me.

And so I already had to kind of balance living in both worlds and trying to fit in.

Morgan says she always stood out at school and not just because she was a Black girl in a sea of white faces.

While her classmates were picking out clothes, Morgan was picking stocks.

Oh I was a hustler. I mean, I've been investing in the stock market since I was 13 years old.

You know, some of the first stocks I had were Netflix, Apple, Tesla.

By high school, Morgan knew she wanted to be a part of something big.

She just didn't know what.

After graduating at the top of her class at Washington University, she landed a job at Intuit.

Now coming from a Midwest city like St.

Louis, far from the Ivy Leagues and the elite circles they create can make it extremely difficult to get noticed by companies in Silicon Valley.

I didn't know anything about like target schools or anything.

I mean, if I had known the statistics on the likelihood of even getting an interview when you're not a target school for a company like into it, I

probably wouldn't apply.

Morgan began devouring blogs, podcasts and news articles, anything to learn as much as she could about life and work in Silicon Valley.

Most of it was written for and by white people.

As a black woman from the Midwest, Morgan was well aware that she was an outsider three times over.

I didn't care. It wasn't about how can I fit in Silicon Valley as a Black person.

It was I'm going to this place that's like one of the fastest growing industries of our generation.

It's going to be the biggest wealth creation center of our generation.

And I want to know, I don't want to be behind, I want to know what these people out into it quickly recognize Morgan's potential.

She was put in a leadership program to help her climb the ranks.

Morgan was on a fast track to becoming a VP.

Everything was going great.

And yet there was a glaring problem that I saw, which was that no one was Black.

Companies in Silicon Valley are building products for the world.

They were not considering black and brown people as their target audience ever from the user testing.

You know, we used to do these testing groups where you would go and follow the customer home.

They're called "Follow Me Homes." They were never Black or Brown.

You're clearly only serving a specific demographic, which is not the future of America.

But the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley became more personal as time went on.

Morgan's well-intentioned coworkers were unaware how some of their comments left her feeling even more isolated.

When Morgan was transitioning her hair from straight to curly, it became a focal point of discussion.

It was just a point of conversation, often.

I remember being like, oh, like you guys have never seen like Black women.

Like I'm the I am probably the only black woman you've ever genuinely had a relationship with as a working

person or otherwise in your entire life.

And you're fifty. You're a fifty year old White man.

That's crazy. So did you try to make inroads to do more exclusivity there?

You know, to be honest with you, Nate, there was a time when I had a very clear.

I could stay at this company and be on the fast track to group manager, director, group director, but I would have been fighting every step

of the way and abandoning something that's so critical to me.

I don't want to push, but like what about the fact that, you know, the next young black woman that comes into it would have seen you as a VP?

Sure. I just didn't want that to be my legacy.

By 2013, Morgan and her longtime friend, Erin Samuels, Jeff Nelson and Jonathan Jackson started crafting an exit strategy from corporate

America. Silicon Valley was overflowing with venture capital and they wanted a piece.

We were watching people raise money off of napkins, ideas on napkins.

And when you get into a Lyft or Uber and the Lyft driver had a startup, you're sitting at a coffee shop.

And it's the same coffee shop that Mark Zuckerberg said, you know, it was everything was accessible.

It was just an inflection time in history in the Bay Area.

There's all this new money and new millionaires and billionaires.

And we were in the mix.

I was in the mix. I didn't want to be an employee.

I knew that I could if I was going to try, would need to be now.

Morgan saw an opportunity catering to an underserved demographic, Black millennials.

She figured that the fastest way to build an audience was to start a curated newsletter full of videos and articles she found interesting.

I scraped all my friends emails.

It's so illegal I would not recommend it.

Like if you did not.

BCC people I was on it and I uploaded those e-mails and I started sending these little curated lists and we eventually built a website.

And that was the beginning. That was probably March, April, May.

It's the summer of 2014 and Morgan is still at Intuit.

But she's putting everything she had in the Blavity, spending nights and weekends studying things like the viral coefficient of her mailing list.

She even converted the family room of her shared apartment into a makeshift office.

To go out on her own, she needed to be religiously frugal.

So no brunch, no nothing.

Boiled eggs and oatmeal.

Demand force had a lot of free food.

I was the girl with the Tupperware, like I was focused on getting out of corporate and saving as much money as possible so that I could live in San

Francisco, which is incredibly expensive with no income.

So I was preparing myself for the eventual leap.

Morgan left her full time position at Intuit shortly after August 9th, 2014, the day Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson,

Missouri. Tensions are boiling over in the St.

Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed young Black man on Saturday.

An investigation now underway into the circumstances of his death.

Suddenly, Morgan felt isolated.

She was disillusioned by the conversations happening around her.

And my ultimate frustration, the thing that made me be like, all right, I'm out.

I'm quitting, is that,

Black media also didn't cover it.

Mike Brown happened on a Saturday and there was nothing, no tweets, nothing until Monday.

At the time I was so confused and so hurt that there was no Black media brands that were covering these stories from our perspective in real time.

And then it was only White reporters dropping down in these cities and reporting it with a White lens on Black pain.

I just could not take it.

And so I was like, I'm quitting.

That's it. What did your family say?

Oh, my gosh. My parents, I was I have to separate my parents.

My father was not happy.

There was a time in which I wouldn't come home.

I just couldn't sit at the dinner table because I would just always become a conversation around Morgan's doing this hobby.

Morgan's father saw Blavity as a distraction.

He was worried it would disrupt her promising career.

So he instituted some tough love.

If she was going to pursue her own path, she needed to lessen her financial risk.

One of the reasons I kept my into a job as a consultant was because he kind of sort of made me.

Like he was like, you should make sure that you have some other income.

And I'm grateful for that, because that was the income that I used to pay for Blavity while I bootstrapped.

How much do you think you put into the company on your own when you were bootstrapping it before you got any outside money?

Oh, you're breaking my heart open.

I probably spent around 250 to 300 thousand dollars, which at the age of twenty four.

Twenty five. A lot of money, and that's your own money.

That was the only money I had.

Women, but especially women of color, have had an incredibly difficult time getting VC funding for their businesses.

Less than three percent of women get venture funding in a year.

And a Black women, it's less than one percent, I think, around point five point six.

So there are not many of us.

Morgan was dead set against raising outside money.

As CEO, she feared she would be on an endless hunt for the next influx of cash.

But more importantly, Morgan worried the outside influence would distract from her mission to raise black voices.

But even after growing Blavity to one million unique visitors, Morgan faced months of rejection.

I had not yet learned how to compartmentalize people's feedback.

I took everything very personally, had a huge chip on my shoulder, and I felt like when someone was declining to invest in the business, they were

declining to invest in me and Black people and Black news.

And it was very hurtful.

I took it very personally.

Morgan was done code switching, so she made a drastic decision.

I only pitched to Black people, which at the time was like there's only seven Black investors in all of the U.S.

that was investing in early stage startups.

So I only pitched in Black VCs because I was like, we're going to be Black and the board is going to be Black.

And the that's is going to be Black and Blackity-black.

And so they said no, which was another layer of hurt because I was like, you get it, you should understand.

And they they did understand, but they did not want to invest.

Is it OK to even ask, like, did you feel that like the Black investors owed something or that they should do it like that?

There was some sort of like need that was so much greater than the imperative to, you know, get a return on your investment right away that

they should have done it? I didn't feel entitled to the money.

I didn't feel like my business was charity.

I felt like it was a huge business opportunity.

I knew that it is.

It was and always will be because Black consumers spent a ton of money.

And we influence out most people's buying decisions.

And we are the entertainers of most people, from news to sports to music.

So I was like, if you don't want to be a part of this rocket ship, I'm out.

To date, Morgan has raised twelve million dollars in outside investment.

What don't people know about Silicon Valley, I would say the numbers are all made up like people don't realize that the numbers, it's really a group

of people who have an opinion.

You read about Silicon Valley, you think there's a formula.

People are that are using.

It's constantly ebbing and flowing.

That's the reality based off of who is in power at that moment, which oftentimes is a reflection of who has the most money or whose companies are

funds or firms are making the most money.

So instead of pitching to traditional VCs, she turned to social impact investors.

My first investor was a fund called New Media Ventures.

That first investment was about six hundred thousand dollars and Morgan knew exactly how to spend it.

She relocated her operation to Los Angeles, purchased two apartments located next to each other, knocked out a wall and converted the space into

a living office. And then fundraising from then on out wasn't difficult because once you get that first stamp of approval, once you're the golden

child, once you've been blessed, it's still work,

but it's very different.

First check is the hardest check in 2016.

Blavity put on its first conference called Empower Her.

She also started Afrotech, the largest tech conference for black founders in Silicon Valley.

We started to get big.

We were starting to have more demand for the multicultural Black audience and consumer from our clients and the agencies than I had

inventory, which is the best problem in the world.

So in 2017, Morgan acquired Travel Noire and the media platform Shadow and Act for an undisclosed sum.

Blavity Inc. average is about 50 million unique page views per month and has 65 employees.

The recent unrest following the death of George Floyd caused a serious problem for sites like Blavity.

Black voices are mission critical to the discussion on race, yet advertisers became wary of buying ads against negative content due to the

protests. Then came the pandemic, which cut the legs off of Blavity's growing conferences.

Regardless of the obstacles, Morgan has little patience for excuse making.

Her goal for Blavity was to create a blueprint for other Black founders to use as a guide as they built their own companies.

We think about institutionalizing the core mission of Blavity, how we operate and how, as entrepreneurs, we've been able to

build this right now.

So I actively coach and mentor anywhere between three and 10 women, oftentimes Black women.

I get on us every other Thursday night and we talk about scaling our new business.

Growing up between cultures made code switching natural for Morgan, but the day Michael Brown died, she found the limits of fitting in.

Morgan no longer felt the need to seek approval of her white peers.

Blavity is a celebration of that freedom.

You don't need anybody else to tell you you're dope.

You know you don't need a White approval that you made it.

We see you and we've got you.

That is why we built this.


Conclusion

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