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Starting as a blog back in 2014, Black Ballad was founded to provide a platform for Black women in Britain to share experiences and perspectives, and create connections. Since then, Black Ballad has become the leading subscription media lifestyle platform for this demographic, with thousands of members.
With the goals of elevating the voices of Black British women through content, community and commerce, Black Ballad has big ideas for the future of empowerment.
We sat down with founder and CEO Tobi Oredein to find out more.
How did Black Ballad first come to life as a business?
Black Ballad came to life as a business via our first crowdfunding campaign. Prior to that, it was a free access blog, with a small but passionate audience. After running the blog for two years and careful research, we decided to monetise it through subscriptions. In that first crowdfund, we pre-sold memberships to test the assumption that people would pay for this product. We managed to pre-sell over 300 memberships, generating £12,000.
What was the original vision for the startup and has that changed at all over time?
When it first started, I simply wanted Black Ballad to be the “Black Stylist” in terms of content – but the proposition has evolved so much since then, we have our editorial voice, we see data as an essential part of our business model and we now operate as a subscription service too, which is something I hadn’t envisioned from the beginning. The ultimate vision is to create a lifestyle experience for Black women globally – becoming their go-to for content, giving them safe spaces for their professional and personal needs, and providing the chance for them to work with brands who can give them the services and opportunities they need.
How is the business built for scalability?
The starting point for scalability when it comes to Black Ballad is our membership model. This allows us to work with advertisers who want to get their products and services in front of this audience through content creation and lifestyle experiences. The paywall has also helped us introduce our newest revenue stream – bulk subscriptions with universities and other institutions, that need information about and for black women and that have an interest in this audience at large. Finally, we have started to use our relationships with our audience at scale to build up a library of data points that aggregates consumer insights which brands, educational institutions and organisations have paid access to.
All these aspects work together to create an audience-driven business with a much higher average revenue per user than most traditional consumer media brands. In addition, with a paying audience basis hailing from 12 different countries, there is clear scope to replicate this ecosystem of products internationally.
What have been the most significant growth milestones to date?
We’re proud to have achieved the following:
- Over 1,000 paying members
- Over 20,000 email subscribers
- Over 400,000 data points from black women
- Over 6,000 survey participations by black women
What is next in the pipeline in the way of partnership or new product launches?
We have secured our first bulk subscription contract with a UK university, meaning that we now have the infrastructure to offer even more educational institutional and organisational subscriptions. We are also launching a jobs board as we’ve had a significant amount of interest from brands who want to advertise job opportunities to this audience in order to drive their own internal diversity initiatives.
How have you involved your users and their feedback in the product development process?
We are huge fans of data! When anyone buys a membership, they fill in a membership form so we can see what they are interested in seeing from us and what their life experiences they expect from the membership. We also hold focus groups with members and we have done long form surveys to understand Black women’s views on subjects such as motherhood, health, finance to understanding how living in different parts of the UK, can shape their life experiences and what they want from Black Ballad. All of this comes together to give a rich set of data, which inspires a range of Black Ballad activities, from content concepts, to new products.
How do you plan on using the funds from this round?
We want to use the proceeds to improve our customer experience and make it easier for free and paying users to read their favourite Black Ballad stories. We’ll also be focusing on increasing content production volume, so we better appeal to different segments of the Black female community. Lastly, we’ll be hiring key talent across business development to improve sales of advertising and group subscription products and drive the mission forward.
Why did you choose crowdfunding?
This platform was built by Black women and allies that care, so we believe that they deserve to reap the rewards of our success. Furthermore, Black founders only secure 0.24% of VC funding, and Black female founders are the least likely to get investment, securing only 0.02% of funding. In the face of those statistics, we knew that crowdfunding would be a good avenue for us.
What would your advice be to entrepreneurs looking to disrupt the content space?
Create content around a specific interest or identity. Don’t be afraid to go “niche”. Making content for a specific community and then building life experiences for them is the way to win.
What has been the greatest learning in starting and growing a business?
The only opinions that matter are those of the customer.
How do you define success?
We want to build a world where every Black woman across Europe and beyond has the Black Ballad app in the palm of her hand.