Last week, I attended an event organized by Next Wave in Business, Boston University Dean of Students Office and Boston University Questrom School of Business. The event was a fireside chat with Morgan DeBaun, CEO and founder of Blavity – the largest media publication company for black millennials. I remember meeting Morgan briefly at Blavity’s event, Afrotech, last fall. Afrotech is the largest black tech conference in Silicon Valley. The event included a series of talks by black, technology innovators. To me, the event was incredibly inspiring. Since then, I have been following her journey.
I was surprised to see that Morgan was coming to Boston for a fireside chat. At the event, Morgan talked a lot about her journey navigating through the west coast technology scene and touched upon challenges that she has faced as a black woman founder. She was honest yet encouraging in her answers.
As a black woman entering the professional field, I wanted to talk with Morgan one-on-one about those specific challenges. Next Wave in Business arranged a private meeting between Morgan and I. I caught up with Morgan before the panel for a short conversation. I listed a few of the questions and her corresponding answers below:
How did you overcome obstacles such as the lack of access to information?
Just grind through it and work harder. It’s the same for everyone; there are no excuses. If you sat and listened to all of the reasons why you shouldn’t be raising money or starting a business or being in this space, it would be very difficult to move forward because there’s so much data that suggests otherwise in terms of your success.
Are there specific stories of people that come to mind that have had the biggest influence on you?
Yes, Oprah, Maya Angelou, John Adams, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama. There are so many people today that would look back and think that those people were fantastic, but in the moment when they were 26, 27, 28 years old, people would doubt their ability to be someone like Oprah because she didn’t exist. How can you be someone who doesn’t exist?
How do you think young, black women can best prepare themselves for the professional field and the workforce?
I think that young women can prepare themselves by living in reality and being pragmatic. In the beginning, I had a chip on my shoulder a lot because I felt like I had to prove so much against the odds and it made me grumpy. But once you let go of that, it’s more freeing. You just accept that the world may not accept you and that it’s your responsibility, although it’s a burden, to create more spaces for other women. My hope is that in 10 years from now we won’t have to question what it’s like to be a black founder because that’s like asking a white man what it’s like to be a white man, it just is. So I hope that my class of entrepreneurial lady friends will last a generation of some of the questions and challenges that we’ve faced.
As being one of 12 women who have raised over a million dollars, what advice do you have for young, black women who want to be entrepreneurs and view raising a million dollars as something unattainable?
Now it’s 25 [black women] so we’re growing fast. I’m so proud of my female founder friends who have asked themselves “why not me” and “let’s go get this money.” So I think that for anyone who is considering going into the space, you cannot look at old patterns and think that you’re going to match them because you won’t. The world changes. No one would look at Mark Zuckerberg and hire Mark Zuckerberg again because he’s done what he’s done and it was great. You cannot duplicate him. You can’t duplicate Evan Spiegel or Jack Dorsey. You can try but you can’t do it, so I think just live in your truth and focus on the business. Focus on the metrics and focus on the results. Ideas are cheap and everyone has ideas. Everyone has ideas in Boston and everyone has ideas in the Bay. Consistent execution for years? That is difficult, so do the work.
Attending Next Wave in Business’s event with Morgan DeBaun was extremely rewarding and I found her answers beautifully honest. The room was small which enabled an intimate and casual setting, it also allowed the opportunity for Morgan to speak with each and every guest after the event had already ended. Among other attendees were black entrepreneurs and future innovators from the East Coast that I was able to connect with. The event had great energy and fostered a sense of community among diverse, Boston-based students and professionals.
Thank you Next Wave in Business and the Questrom School of Business for connecting me with Morgan and for connecting Morgan DeBaun with the Boston student community. The event was truly one to remember. My hope is that more businesses and platforms can continue to build upon a diverse community, in such a way that Next Wave Business has.