Full Transcript: The Shade Room Founder And CEO Angelica Nwandu On GHOGH Podcast
They discuss how she built a multi-million dollar media platform and her recent moves into films.
They also discuss the academic and business success of Nigerians in America and why Facebook shut down her business multiple times while allowing Russians and Cambridge Analytica to promiscuously market anti-Black ads.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 22: Angelica Nwandu
Jamarlin talks to the founder and CEO of The Shade Room, Angelica Nwandu. They discuss how she built a multi-million dollar media platform and her recent moves into films. They also discuss the academic and business success of Nigerians in America and why Facebook shut down her business multiple times while allowing Russians and Cambridge Analytica to promiscuously market anti-Black ads.
This is a full transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to go with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! Today we have a certified innovator on the show. We’re very thankful to have Angelica Nwandu on the show.
Angelica Nwandu: I’m happy to be here, hey guys.
Jamarlin Martin: I’m gonna dive right in. Are You Nigerian?
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah. Well, I’m first generation Nigerian, my parents were from Nigeria and they came here I think in the eighties to pursue the American dream, and it turned into the American nightmare honestly. So that’s kind of my background.
Jamarlin Martin: So my understanding is Fred, I forget the brother’s last name. He started Media Take Out. I don’t think he’s Nigerian, but he was African. But where I’m going is I see a lot of folks who are not African American, like myself, but you guys are coming with more of your kind of African culture and academia and media and you’re seeing relative to the population, Africans are killing it across a lot of areas in the United States.
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah, definitely. First of all, I grew up in American culture with Nigeria influence. I grew up in the foster care culture, so a lot of the people that took care of me were American, but I had my family still around me and I still had a strong grasp of my Nigerian roots, you know? But I will say that Africans are killing it. I think we are the most educated immigrant group, and they are killing it. You have to think about how Africans, I mean in the culture you’re raised pursue education to the fullest. The parents are really strict, so even though I was in foster care, I think that’s what kind of steered me the way I went to college, I got a full scholarship to college.
Jamarlin Martin: But you were still connected to that aspect of hey, you got to put a premium on education that comes from that Nigerian culture.
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah. My dad was a professor, so he was extremely intelligent and I remember when we were living with him when we couldn’t watch TV, he would sit us down and have competitions on who could read better. You get what I’m saying? I grew up with that influence and the emphasis on education and the emphasis on being successful. And that stayed with me, even when I was removed from that environment and put into foster care, I still had people around me like, listen, you may be a foster child but you are Nigerian and you’re going to be successful. You know what I mean? And so that. So I had two identities and so I always kept those expectations. And I would even say when I would go into class, the typical African American, there is a stereotype put on their head even when they’re in school. You’re not going to be successful, whatever it is. But I lived in a different stereotype, I was Nigerian and they saw that by my last name. So when I would go to class they would say, you should get straight As, the teachers had a positive expectation of me. And so I will say that that helped me growing up for sure.
Jamarlin Martin: Wow. You really touched on a theory of a scholar, Derrick Bell. He came out with a theory called the stereotype threat and what he said was because there were low expectations of African Americans in the classroom and in other areas, that that played out in the end result, meaning that the stereotype, the expectation actually drove the results. And you’re saying from your perspective, there was a positive stereotype where you’re getting treated like an Asian in the classroom. And that helped your confidence.
Angelica Nwandu: It did. My teachers didn’t accept anything from me. They were just like, Hey, I know you have Nigerian parents, even though I didn’t most of the time, but they were like, I know you have Nigerian parents, I know they’re strict on you, you’re going to be smart. And that does help with self esteem, self confidence and goals because if people see you in a great light, then you’ll begin to see yourself in a great light. Words are very powerful.
Jamarlin Martin: So I’ve traced my lineage and it goes back to Nigeria, Yoruba through my dad’s side. And I’ve studied this issue in terms of the Nigerians, my friends and the Nigerians that I know in the United States. And I looked at cultural differences and academic performance, and one report that covered this issue, they interviewed a Nigerian family and the Nigerian mother said to her kids, ‘don’t play with the African American kids, they’re going to mess you up and get you off track’. Does that sound crazy based on your experience that a Nigerian mother in the United States would say be careful with those African American kids?
Angelica Nwandu: It doesn’t sound crazy to me. It doesn’t sound crazy to me because I think that there is this dynamic between African Americans and Africans on both sides. I know that when I was growing up, a lot of times I was teased or stereotyped by African American children. I mean only because we only know what we see, right? So this is the way that Africa and Africans are portrayed on television to African Americans here. There’s this divide. Right? And so I would be doing PE and kids were like, ‘come and do the rain dance’, or whatever. There’s a lot of African people now who could say that they were bullied when they were younger, and then the same as on the other end. There’s a lot of Africans who have a stereotype of what African Americans are like right. Oh, they’re disconnected from the culture there. They have these stereotypes because of what they see, what is portrayed of African Americans to them. And what is the portrayal of African Americans? We’re fighting everyday to change that portrayal and that stereotype. But Americans have a stereotype of African Americans and that’s what Nigerian or Africans see. So they would have that, oh, stay away from them, they’re bad influences and things of that nature because of what they see. So I think we’re both being duped, on both sides, because of what we’ve seen.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I wasn’t shocked. I was on Facebook’s campus a couple of years ago and I saw a sprinkle of black people, but they were all African. Meaning that when Facebook and Google, when tech companies report that they have two percent black people. They probably don’t want to disclose is that less than half of the African American percentage is actually African American. Meaning that African Americans are not who’s getting a lot of the jobs, it’s actually Africans who are coming over here and out-competing the African Americans. At least that’s what I’m seeing. So talk about your story in terms of growing up and how do you get to start The Shade Room.
Angelica Nwandu: Well, okay. So as I said, my parents came over in the eighties and my mother was a nurse and my dad was a professor. He eventually lost his job and that created issues in the marriage. There is this thing, what do they call it now? I forgot what it’s called, but it’s like, masculinity can be fatal at times. Right?
Jamarlin Martin: Toxic masculinity.
Angelica Nwandu: That’s what they call it. Toxic masculinity.
Jamarlin Martin: Before you say anything, I would just say for the audience, if some of you people are going to talk about toxic masculinity, if you’re going to use that word, don’t be scared when you look at the history of our people around the world, that if you’re going to bang on toxic masculinity, you have to bang on whiteness, toxic whiteness. It’s so easy and poplar for you to say toxic masculinity, but it’s so hard for you to say toxic whiteness.
Angelica Nwandu: Oh No. We say toxic whiteness all the time. We can talk about that. But toxic masculinity to me is when your masculinity becomes fatal to other people. Right? You know what I mean? In my opinion, that’s what it is. Right? And that’s what happened. My Dad grew up taking care of himself and to be the breadwinner in the family. And when the roles were switched, he began to be offended by that. Right? And so his demeanor towards my mother changed. He became abusive. Obviously long story short, he did take my mother’s life when I was six years old, so I ended up in foster care. And so being in foster care, I was raised under African American role models and parents and figures and things of that nature for 12 years. But I still have my cousins and my aunts that would come visit and the majority of my family was in Nigeria, but I still had that influence. I went through foster care, best thing I’ve ever gone through and I know you won’t hear that a lot, but it really refined my character and stretched me and it made me who I am today. I got a full ride to Loyola Marymount University and I studied accounting. So I got a job, working towards becoming a CPA. Doing my supervisor… Anyway, it’s a long story, but I got a job working towards becoming a CPA, and I was working for a motorcycle company and I decided at that point that I wanted to be a writer because that’s what I had done my whole life. I was a poet. That’s what got me to kind of deal with my emotions that I dealt with when I was young. And so I decided one day I wanted to be a writer. I said it to the world, I told everybody I knew. My mentor connected me with a screenwriter who was working on a script, her name is Jordana Spiro, she’s an actress. And we wrote our first script. It went to Sundance, which was amazing. That gave me all of the juice that I needed to believe that I could pursue this career in writing. Sundance gave me a grant to write. That allowed me to leave my job, which I was given an ultimatum anyway, because I was focusing so much on writing. So I left my job.
Jamarlin Martin: What were you doing in that job?
Angelica Nwandu: So I was doing like bookkeeping and doing like taxes and all that type of stuff under a real CPA. I left and I was unemployed and I didn’t have any money. Sundance gave me a grant for $5,000 and they said, write, and what that translated into my head was figured out how you’re going to take care of yourself. So I was actually frequenting Bossip, Media Take Out, all of these sites and doing that for free, and would call up my friends and ask, ‘did you see this happen? Did you see that happen as well?’ Finally they were like, well, if you going to call us up every time something big happens and you’re going to report to us with these funny stories, why don’t you just create your own website? And so at the time I didn’t know how to create a website. I wasn’t technologically advanced. Plus when I go online everybody would say, don’t do it, it’s a dying industry. www. is a dying industry. So, the only thing I knew how to do was Instagram. I was really great at Instagram and so I created a website on Instagram, that published directly to Instagram during the time when websites were trying to figure out their relationship to social media and it did well.
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Angelica Nwandu: Well the problem like you said, is that there is no efficient process for Facebook to kind of look at… the report system is not efficient in my opinion. It doesn’t work in the advantage of the media companies It was hard Some of the content that we had, they would be against it. The reporting system, if so many people report something, they’ll take it down without. It’s hard to talk to someone. It was just a cold system, especially if that doesn’t work for media, and as we can see now, Facebook doesn’t really want media that much on their platform.
Jamarlin Martin: Did you feel like your business, it could be a wrap in terms of you were shut down long enough where, I don’t know if we’re going to get past this?
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah, definitely, because Facebook was huge when it came to our website. It wasn’t our biggest community, our biggest community lives on Instagram but it was vital when it came to the figures.
Jamarlin Martin: When I mentioned Facebook, I’m really talking about Instagram.
Angelica Nwandu: Oh, you’re talking about Instagram. Okay. Yeah, there were plenty of times where I thought that I was done. But what I realized in those moments when we would get shut down, because Instagram or Facebook is not as media friendly as we would like, what I did realize was that the brand was strong. I realized how strong the brand was the first time we got shut down. We grew faster than the first time.
Jamarlin Martin: And how long were these periods where they shut down your business?
Angelica Nwandu: So the first time we had 500,000 followers on Instagram, this was when we were just becoming a name. And so we got shut down for a period of two weeks. And I just remember that was one of the hardest two weeks ever. And then after that we got back on Instagram, we started from follower number one.
Jamarlin Martin: Wow. You had to open up a new account?
Angelica Nwandu: We had to open up a new account from number one and I can’t tell you what kind of balls it took for me to sit there and just start again from scratch. It took major balls and even when I look back on that girl, I’m like, girl, like you’re inspiring. Like how did you get up and just start over right from one. But I did and we grew 500,000 in two months, versus six months that it took the first time, and then the account grew bigger than it would have grown before.
Jamarlin Martin: So they shut down your business essentially. You gotta do it all over again. Facebook is saying we’re all about diversity, they hire a diversity team and their PR people are saying we’re all about diversity, but do you think that would be inconsistent in terms of how they have treated, not just with your situation up to 500,000, but after that they haven’t treated black media like they really care about diversity?
Angelica Nwandu: That is true. I think that they do need to have an initiative to kind of reach out to black media because we are treated… the way that they just shut black media down. I mean when you look at like Fashion Bomb Daily just got shut down, an account with over a million followers that’s very prevalent in the community and she can’t even get anybody on the line.
Jamarlin Martin: For the audience, it’s not just a few media folks, I’m talking about media organizations that I am aware of representing probably about $20 million users online, multiple organizations talk about Facebook being very cold in their way. They’re policing content, particularly content that is attacking the system, attacking racism. That’s really speaking to black folks specifically. They are policing it in an arbitrary way like the police in the streets. Essentially that’s my conclusion in talking to more folks in my own experience with Facebook. Would you agree with that?
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah. I think that they need to be educated on what black media is and how important it is and the type of content that we engage with. It’s the report system. I think it’s the report system where racists can just report this content and there’s no kind of protection from that.
Jamarlin Martin: That’s exactly what happened to us. They said that some users complained about some of our content. Hey, you posted something about Barack Obama and people don’t like it, what does that have to do with the business or the site?
Angelica Nwandu: Right, and so that’s what I mean about it not being me media friendly, especially on our end because we don’t have the top relationships. There’s no effort to foster relationships with us. You know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s because they don’t think we’re important enough. I don’t really know what it is, but I think it’s definitely something that Facebook should invest in.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. You have maybe the biggest Instagram following in black media. Has Facebook ever connected with you and said, hey, we’re going to give you a dedicated rep because you’re helping Facebook to blow up, meaning that they’re making a lot of advertising off of The Shade Room. You have the biggest Instagram following in black America in terms of media. Have they ever reached out?
Angelica Nwandu: Not just black America, America? E! News doesn’t have as many followers as we have, CNN, TMZ, as far as on social media, so it’s one of the biggest following in the media space, period. And we bring in about five billion impressions a month just on Instagram alone.
Jamarlin Martin: So you’re bigger than a lot of the mainstream platforms, but has Facebook invested in a partnership with you, in terms of like a rep where you could talk through your issues? Because I have spoken with white CEOs where they say that Facebook has sent experts to help them figure out the algorithm, exploit the algorithm. They were giving them inside information. And so Facebook has been consulting for certain media companies, but in fairness, they’re consulting with media companies that are spending a lot of money on the platform.
Angelica Nwandu: Right. Well, the thing about it is that we have had to reach out to Facebook and I wouldn’t say they came to us. We had to reach out to them, but they have had meetings with us about doing content, partnering and in certain ways we’ve had those kinds of conversations.
Jamarlin Martin: I’m not going to spend too long on this, but the Russians used Facebook to compromise the democratic process in terms of the election, and so an audit was done and it showed that there were a lot of Russian racist ads that were going through the pipes of Facebook. A lot of them, but Facebook was not policing those ads, based on observing certain content policies on Facebook and Instagram. How could the Russians and these organizations get all this racist stuff, but legitimate black media companies are getting shut down because of speaking out against racism? Explain that. What’s going on with that?
Angelica Nwandu: That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves. You know what I mean? Because we will see some of the most vile content out there on Facebook, and something small that is not offensive in any way, does not violate the community guidelines, for us will be taken down. The only way that I could try to make any sense of this is the users. When you have an automated system where you’re not really having conversations with people, you have an automated system that’s filtering reports. There could be a group of racists that would not report racist content, but would report content they don’t want to see because they are racist. I’m not really sure how it works, but it is odd.
Jamarlin Martin: So my understanding in talking with other CEOs and researching this issue is that Facebook, they have a whitelist. One CEO spent millions of dollars a month and he said Facebook was helping his company game the algorithms. Facebook has given Buzzfeed and other publishers who are spending money on the platform preferred access. They give them expert consulting, and in Buzzfeed’s case, I believe Facebook gave them $5 million. Buzzfeed has the benefit of having their board member on the board of Facebook. But I believe what happens with black media, where the system is not transparent, and if you’re spending a certain amount of money or you have certain relationships, they are going to put that website in a whitelist. And so the policing is going to be different. So the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and some of the affiliates in general, I believe that websites are put into different buckets. And so if black people are one percent of the policy teams, the content policy teams that polices this stuff, or the executives who decide on the policies of the organization. If black people are not in the room, it seems like there’s just a lot of room for the same policing issues, mass incarceration issues that you see on the street. There is no reason to believe that tech and some of these policies are going to be any different in terms of arbitrary policing.
Angelica Nwandu: I definitely agree. I think that’s a huge problem, honestly. I think that’s a huge problem because we’re not spending as much money. We don’t have as much access and we don’t have as much representation and we’re not allowed the same allowances. And so that is an issue.
Jamarlin Martin: You’ve innovated a massive amount in terms of scaling an audience in a short amount of time. How did you create your playbook? Was it just a matter of testing? Was it a combination of research? Walk the audience through how you built your formula to scale Shade Room.
Angelica Nwandu: I just want to let you. I don’t want to degrade myself or downplay myself, but I don’t think I was a genius per se. Like I said, I grew up in America as a black woman and that’s the reality. I grew up as a black woman, right? When you look at me I’m black obviously. And the only time I got anything else was when you saw my last name. Right? And so for me, I knew what I was interested in and that I wasn’t one dimensional. I didn’t just like gossip or celebrity news. I like music, fashion, all these things trending. Basically how I was able to scale The Shade Room was dialing into who I was, dialing into what my interests were. And that just happened to resonate with a lot of other black women. I’m Nigerian, so our second biggest population is from Lagos. Nigeria is one of our second biggest populations, so it’s me just being true to myself and through being true to myself, so many people can relate to that and the feed is curated to people with specific interests. And I think that’s why The Shade Room is scaling is because people are connecting personally, connecting with the content because of how true I am to myself. It’s been instinct I would say so far.
Jamarlin Martin: Have you thought about taking The Shade Room to Nigeria?
Angelica Nwandu: I definitely have thought about taking The Shade Room to Nigeria. I mean I own the domain and things of that nature. We had a website that we created but it will take a lot. But I definitely want to give him Nigeria something for sure.
Jamarlin Martin: As an observer, what I found amazing about what you were doing, I would say probably this was like two, three years ago. I saw you bringing in direct advertisers, and publishers at your scale weren’t really transacting with small, medium size businesses, black businesses with the same traction as you. Can you talk about building out that monetization strategy, which from my perspective in the digital media industry, I didn’t see any media company moving commerce and transacting directly with advertisers with small to medium size businesses the way you were doing?
Angelica Nwandu: Yes. I will say this, and this is my disclaimer. I will tell you that a lot of the things that happened was because of inconveniences. For instance, when we first started, we were not on a website so we could not take advantage of ads, Google Adsense, and all these things or website deals and things of that nature. So we have to find a way to monetize Instagram, right? And at the time most websites weren’t using Instagram as a publishing platform. We were the first ones to do it. And so we had to create our own blueprint that would help the company. And so, we saw a demand, a lot of the people that we were servicing wanted to be on The Shade Room. And so for me it was like, ‘Hey, okay, how do we monetize this situation?’ Well, why don’t we give them a platform to be on The Shade Room. And a lot of people say that is a dumb decision.
Jamarlin Martin: Why?
Angelica Nwandu: Because they will say that there’s a cap, right? What you could charge a black business or a small business, versus going to bigger companies and things of that nature and being able to do bigger deals. But it really works for us. I think it works for us in both ways. We’re able to empower the companies and the costs we charge the companies to advertise on The Shade Room are very affordable. You get what I’m saying? So we’ve been able to give a lot of companies their start on The Shade Room and I do believe that when you have a site that gives opportunity to the community, it’s not just the site that people go and look at it things of that nature and they see ads on it, you’re actually helping people build their businesses and things of that nature. Then you’re creating something really valuable.
Jamarlin Martin: One thing I’ll say in my experience. We did deals with Wells Fargo, with BMW and we’ve done fortune 500 deals. But when you start working with the big companies, now there’s a question of can you sustain your authenticity, where you’re speaking direct with your audience, you’re keeping it real. But when you have the clause of these corporations that don’t really understand the culture, they’re scared of real talk about some of the issues in our community, they don’t want to be by that stuff. I feel like longterm, it is better for you and other media companies to have access to revenue from the community than revenue from some of these bigger corporations who are most likely, at scale, they’re going to dilute the authenticity of the content over time in terms of restrictions.
Angelica Nwandu: One thing you’ll learn about me is I’m very big on authenticity and that’s why I haven’t accepted millions of investment dollars. One thing about the company, we took a convertible note of $100,000 when we first started and that’s the only investment that I’ve ever had. Never spent the money.
Jamarlin Martin: Congratulations.
Angelica Nwandu: Thank you. The rest of the money is the company’s money that we invest back into the company to grow. We’re basically bootstrapping for the most part. So for me it is so important, especially in this day and age when many companies don’t really know what they’re doing, that’s just the truth. Let’s be honest. Look at Vice, look at Buzzfeed. They don’t really know. Nobody really knows what we’re doing. Digital media is new. You get what I’m saying? And so to be able to be flexible and to be able to change the company if I needed to or to convert the company into something else. My thing is listening, listening to the audience, right? And I’m not able to listen to the audience of I have all these big companies that are invested in and diluting the content. I can’t listen to the audience. I can’t transform the company when it needs to be transformed. And so my biggest thing is owning the company so that I can make sure that any decision or any transformation that needs to take place, we can do that and that we’re always staying true to the audience. Once you stop staying true to the audience you’re done, period. And just to talk about Buzzfeed. My sister loves Buzzfeed.
Jamarlin Martin: Oh yeah. I don’t want to take anything away from…
Angelica Nwandu: But this is what she told me. She loves Buzzfeed. I love Buzzfeed too, but, she loves Buzzfeed, but she’s like, ‘I can’t stand taking quizzes on Buzzfeed anymore’. I’m like, why? She says, ‘because it’s always an ad. It’s like a native ad thing’. And so that’s what I’m saying. That’s what happens when you have to recoup that money that you’ve taken for investments.
Jamarlin Martin: What’s the minimum budget you’ll accept on The Shade Room from an advertiser?
Angelica Nwandu: There is no minimum. That’s the funny part. There is no minimum. It depends on the company because I once had a girl hit me up on Facebook and she wanted to advertise some shoes and she was just like, ‘I need to do this, I need to start my company’. And I gave her an ad for $300. That’s not the typical amount. It just depends really depends.
Jamarlin Martin: So you won’t turn away a client that would have $100?
Angelica Nwandu: Well I don’t know. It really depends. If somebody has a really good story, it just depends. We have a relationship with our community, you know what I’m saying? And some of our roommates are die-hard roommates, and if you’ve been a roommate for years and you just want to be on The Shade Room… not too long ago we gave out business scholarships to a lot of our roommates. So it really just depends to me. Obviously normally we don’t do $300 ads, just so y’all know, but I’m just saying there is no minimum I would go to depending on the circumstances. It depends.
Jamarlin Martin: So you started Shade Room. How do you acquire your traffic? How do you build the audience so fast? Were there any specific techniques that you could share in terms of, hey, I was optimizing what was working and what kept on working. I started doing more of it. Like was there any technique that really worked for you?
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah, the manger technique that worked for us is that we curate the content, but it comes from the roommates. So basically, we wake up in the morning and the roommates are the ones sending in everything that they want to see that day. And basically what we do is we go through what they want to see and we pull out what’s real. Obviously we have to verify things. We pull out what’s real. We pull out what we know works on the page and things of that nature. So basically, it’s like the people’s blog, right? They can pull down an article, they could put up an article, you know what I mean, like literally that they have that power when it comes to The Shade Room and I don’t think that many sites allow that kind of power. They kind of are in the position of power and kind of determine and dictate what their audience sees, whereas we allow the audience to be in a position of power and dictate what they want us to see. If they say, hey, we don’t want to see this person on The Shade Room anymore, it’s gone. You know what I mean? Or if they say, hey, we want to see this person and they’re not necessarily a celebrity, but we want to build them into becoming that. When you look at like Queen Naija and Chris Sails, those people that normal traditional outlets were like, who are they, these are YouTubers, but we allow the audience to dictate what is on The Shade Room and I think that listening is a big part of it. Because we do that, we’re not serving them stuff that they’re not interested in. We’re serving them everything that they’re interested in on the platform.
Jamarlin Martin: How big is your team?
Angelica Nwandu: We are 20 people altogether and I’m talking about lawyers, accountants, CFO, everybody.
Jamarlin Martin: Full time employees?
Angelica Nwandu: All of our writers are full time and we have about 12 writers.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re keeping a lean operation. Does that come from your accounting background, but you seem like you’re very disciplined. Your business keeps growing, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go hire 50 employees and do a whole bunch of funky stuff. Talk about your philosophy on staying lean.
Angelica Nwandu: Well, here’s the situation. I think that for me, I do a lot of research and so, for instance, the company made double what we may last year so far this year, and we’re only six months in, and the year before we made double what we made the previous year. We’re growing exponentially. But for me, I’ve always been cheap, number one. So, I bring that into it I guess because I’ve been cheap. I only want to spend when necessary. But also I’ve looked at the other companies, right? Even like Groupon was an example for me a long time ago. When Groupon was crashing, it was because they had all the offices and all of the employees. I thought what does it really takes to run a operation? Like we don’t need a million invoices to run this ship, you know what I mean? So just knowing what exactly you need, and I’d rather give my 12 writers raises and promote them so that they are more loyal, and doing a lot more quality work for the team, than to get a million employees who will never… I’m not growing for the sake of growing, just so that everybody can do that.
Jamarlin Martin: And I guess one brilliant strategy that you have executed is that you’ve been able to grow your organization without equity investors, traditional conventional equity investors. So now you don’t have to force The Shade Room to grow, hire 100 employees and try to hit some investor target that it’s either hit or bust. Meaning that I see a lot of companies, young entrepreneurs, they get into the trap where you have a very good business, this business can throw off cash. You can get liquidity from actually being profitable. But when you go into the claws of these big investors, they don’t care if your business goes bust, it’s either you’re going for a billion or nothing. And so I see them being pressured to be bigger than what they need to be.
Angelica Nwandu: And why don’t they care if your business goes bust? Because they have so many other businesses they spread out their bets. They’re like, listen, we don’t care. I mean, we spread out the bets. We have so many businesses in our profile that, we want to push you to the end or it’s not worth it. So, that’s definitely one of the things that I’ve avoided. And obviously The Shade Room was coming up in a time when Vice was having billion dollar valuations, before we even knew what digital media was going to return to. So at the end of the day, I got to watch a lot of companies. I was moving slower and so therefore you see all of the companies running in this direction and then when you see them coming back over here, I get to watch that. And so that is the value of focusing on cash, being cash positive, focusing on the businesses health. I think a lot of times we don’t focus on the health of the business and that’s what I’ve been focused on. Does the business make money? If the business makes money in it’s cash positive and it can sustain itself, then that’s a good business. Like you said, focusing on the fact that it’s a good business. So because we’ve been bootstrapping it’s kept us lean. You know what I mean? We don’t have a ton of money to throw out. We don’t have millions. Some of these companies are going to like $200,000,000 investment. We don’t have all that to be able to have a million offices and a million employees. So I think that bootstrapping also keeps us lean and keeps us focused on what is necessary when it comes to investment for the company.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you have any plans in the film and television space for The Shade Room?
Angelica Nwandu: I definitely do. Speaking of the script that I wrote, it’s coming to theatres Aug. 3. It went to the Sundance Film Festival this year, has won a ton of awards. So I’m extremely happy about that. I’m working on another project called Juju.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re writing scripts?
Angelica Nwandu: I’m a screenwriter too. That’s what I wanted to be. The Shade Room was, I won’t say a mistake, it was an accident, you know what I mean, but I wanted to be a screenwriter. It was my plan B that turned into my plan A. And so for me, because I have that film background, I want it to merge and I definitely want The Shade Room to be a place where we can produce content, produce programming. I feel like the African American community is underserved when it comes to programming. We can go on TV, we can go on Netflix. I mean they have a couple of things for us, but it’s like there really is no place for us to get content that is specifically made for us, that actually speaks to us.
Jamarlin Martin: Particularly the younger generation.
Angelica Nwandu: The younger generation. Yeah. Because even BET is skewed a little bit older. So that’s why we go to social media because that’s the best thing we have, that’s our closest thing that is curated content for us with the algorithm and things of that nature. And so we want to provide programming for them as well.
Jamarlin Martin: So you mentioned, Indie.vc, you took a convertible note early on of $100,000. Did you ever talk to equity investors? Were there any equity investors that you thought, let me see what they’re talking about. What are the terms?
Angelica Nwandu: I always talk to investors. I just talked to one yesterday. I always talk to investors. There’s so much money that they want to put into The Shade Room, it’s not even funny. I’ve talked to people who want to invest 5 million, 10 million, 20 million. I’ve talked to so many investors, but the only thing I do is learn from them and then I’m gone. They always say, if you don’t take investment money right now, then technology is going to be your downfall.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re going to be disrupted if you don’t take.
Angelica Nwandu: You’re going to be disrupted.
Jamarlin Martin: So they come out and threaten or pressure you?
Angelica Nwandu: You know what? There is a saying, if you’re talking to a hammer, all they’re gonna see is nails. So when you think about investors, that’s what they know, that’s their business. So they think every company needs investment money, especially in the technology space. So I don’t know if they’re pressuring me, they just don’t see any other way around it. And I do see another way around it. Spanx is a company that grew, bootstrapped its way up. There are many companies that can do it, but I don’t know. Has there has ever been a media company in tech that did it without investing money?
Jamarlin Martin: I never raised equity capital. But I don’t know what scale you’re talking about. I would say for sure there’s not a lot of them.
Angelica Nwandu: And so that’s where they’re coming from. They’re coming from that standpoint.
Jamarlin Martin: And so you take a convertible note from Indie.vc. To our audience, can you explain what a convertible note is and how that could be an option as opposed to vanilla equity investment?
Angelica Nwandu: Let me just go back. Right? So Indie.vc, that’s the closest thing I could compare it to. I think that with Indie.vc is a nontraditional type of situation. So what they do is their main goal is to invest in companies that they feel are healthy companies and good businesses that are built themselves basically. And so they want to get their equity, if you sell. And their goal is to get you to not sell. It gets you to stay in it long enough, and their issue was that a lot of companies build themselves with the intention to sell, right? And so for us that’s kind of what it is, is that if we sell then that turns into equity in the company.
Jamarlin Martin: Would there be a number where if someone approached you, you would sell The Shade Room? You mentioned that you’ve had some interest. I know some executives, they’ve called me like, Hey, I’m looking to invest or buy something. And some folks have always wanted to roll up black media in terms of, hey, the industry is too fragmented, they play us against each other on the advertising side. It’s either we’re going to get big and scale up and kind of consolidate a lot of this stuff, or we’re all going to be kind of run out of the industry over time with the big heavyweights of Google, Facebook and some of the bigger platforms from an advertising perspective. But is there a number where you would say, I’m out? Honestly, I don’t need to know the number. I just want to know.
Angelica Nwandu: Let me just say this. People think I’m completely insane when they talk to me because they’re like, I get asked this all the time. Is there a number? I’m not even thinking about selling this company anytime. I don’t do this for the money. If I did do this for the money, I would have sold the company a long time ago. Like I would’ve sold it sometime this year with the kind of deals or offers we’ve been getting. Right? But I think that for me, I do this because I’m passionate about it, you know what I’m saying? And I just make money.
Jamarlin Martin: But let’s say I’m a private equity firm and I want to buy The Shade Room for $100 million. You could stay on as founder and CEO and keep on doing what you’re doing, but I want to invest in some things and I want to make it even bigger.
Angelica Nwandu: Well, like I said, I’m passionate about the community too. You get what I’m saying? I can’t do that because for me, I’m protective of the community, and I know what’s going on. I know that a lot of these private equity firms and a lot of these companies are buying out black media and we don’t have full control of our voice. Right? And so for me, I think this community is too sensitive, that it would take a lot for me to come up off this company and it would have to be from somebody that I respected and trusted with this community. You get what I’m saying? So it wouldn’t be to a private equity company, it would be to another black business that I could trust with the voice of this company. I would never just sell it off to anybody because that’s irresponsible, especially with the amount of people that follow The Shade Room and are hooked on The Shade Room. To me, it would just be completely irresponsible. And like I said, there is no amount of money for me to do that.
Jamarlin Martin: You launched The Shade Room website, I believe, a few years ago. Was that in response to distrust in the owner of Instagram, Facebook? It’s kinda like we’re on quicksand because we don’t know what these white folks could do at any second with our built-in audience and engagement with their audience. So we need to start building our own platform. Was it a reaction to some of the risks that were out there?
Angelica Nwandu: No, I think we had the website shortly after I started the Instagram. So when I started making a little bit of money before we got shut, I had someone build like a rickety website, you know what I mean? But I do definitely feel like having a platform, the website is doing really well and I feel like having a platform is great. The issue that I’ve had in business and when it comes to The Shade Room is that Instagram is so optimized for our audience, right? They continue to optimize it to make it convenient for a media company. The picture slides, the IG story, the IGTV. The Shade Room is on all platforms, right? And all platforms are feeding into the popularity of The Shade Room because of the different features and we don’t have to pay for it. Instagram is paying for it. It’s been a great business model up to this point and we’ve thought about doing an app. We do have an app that’s ready to come out and we thought about doing all that type of stuff, but what we’ve realized is that our audience, what makes The Shade Room so popular and great and why we’re growing so fast is because our audience loves that we’re where they are. Anytime you try to take people from where they are and take them somewhere else, then it becomes a little bit harder. You know what I’m saying?
Jamarlin Martin: Are you familiar with what happened with Zynga and Facebook? It was a long time ago. But one of the risks I see out there in terms of the social media platform that’s owned by, let’s say, Instagram is owned by Facebook, or Twitter or whatever platform. Digital media history has showed us that Demand Media, they’ve really got how to exploit this SEO, search engine optimization, and they were killing it. They went public on their SEO strategies. And then Google caught onto what they were doing. And then they did an update to the search algorithm called Panda, and it was never the same. And then with Zynga, they had signed a partnership deal, with a contract where Zynga was blowing up the IPO, I believe it was over a billion dollars. Facebook stopped the music on them and told them that they cannot run the marketing that they were doing and distribution that they were doing like they were before. And they ripped up the contract. Zynga came down off of that billion dollar valuation and went way down. But one risk I see though is I just don’t trust the people at Facebook in terms of, I get that there’s a lot of audience and that’s where the people are, but they’re changing policy so frequently, companies have shut down because of the most recent updates. I just don’t trust them.
Angelica Nwandu: No, I don’t think anybody trusts them. But the thing about it is for me, I think that simultaneously we’re building a brand that is like a household brand. So when you build a brand that is so deep into the culture, they’re gonna find you somewhere. And I know that that sounds really risky…
Jamarlin Martin: So you’re saying, even if Mark and Sheryl, they woke up and said, hey, we’re going to change it, you can’t post Shade Room type of content on Facebook, that you have a backup plan where you will take it somewhere and they will follow?
Angelica Nwandu: Yeah. They will follow. They will have to, because this is what they do every morning. They wake up and they go to The Shade Room, and the brand is so potent that it would be like something was missing from your day. Right? And so that’s what we aim to do is just keep curating content that speaks to them in a way where they’re like, hey, I mean that’s what happened the first time, right? We got shut down. Obviously we’re much bigger now, 13 million, so that will be it. But until we figure out where the people will go, we definitely want to just keep curating and making the brand more potent.
Jamarlin Martin: If you really love the GHOGH podcast, one way to support us is going to http://www.moguldom.com/survey. Fill out that quick survey, that gives us better information on her audience. It helps us with our sponsors. That’s one big way you can support us and keep our movement going. Go to http://www.moguldom.com/survey. Thank you. Okay, so Shade Room has blown up massively, but you’ve been behind the scenes. You’re not popping your collar. You’re not at the conferences or not in the media. What’s going on with your low key profile?
Angelica Nwandu: I’m a low key person I think. I don’t care about fame. I don’t care about a lot of money. The only reason why I care about money at all is because I want to continue to build this company because I have a purpose. Right? And so that’s my thing. I want to be able to have a black media company that can do programming and put out programming for the young audience. Right? And not only just put out programming but allow them to have their own programming in a sense. A lot of our content comes from the roommates. Right? And so when we think about doing programming, we want to also allow the roommates that have a direct channel to us to be able to promote their content, put it out there, empower them. They can’t just go to the cable networks and say, I want a show, but you could come to Shade Room and say you want a show, we could do that. And so that’s definitely my end goal. And so for me, I don’t care about everything else. I don’t care about the fame. I would love to be behind the scenes. It’s an easier life anyway. I love going to the grocery store with my head wrap and nobody knows who I am. My writers can’t do that though, but I can. So yeah.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. So where can people check you out personally? Do you have an online profile?
Angelica Nwandu: I actually don’t have an Instagram. I have a Facebook, I have a Linkedin, and that’s about it.
Jamarlin Martin: Everybody’s on The Shade Room so I won’t even say check out The Shade Room, for the audience out there. Take a look at the marketing and advertising services to connect with The Shade Room, go direct.
Angelica Nwandu: Thank you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamarlin Martin: Shout it out again.
Angelica Nwandu: email@example.com
Jamarlin Martin: And so, of course, media companies when they use Google or some of the other services, they’re taking 40, 50 percent, but you can tap into an ad scale audience at The Shade Room. Go directly with another black business, and repeat it again…
Angelica Nwandu: firstname.lastname@example.org. ads
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. Thanks for coming on the show. Let’s GHOGH! Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @jamarlinmartin on Twitter and also come check us out at www.moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M dot com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!
This podcast has been edited for clarity.
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