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Blavity cofounder who raised $8.5 million is ‘terrified’ of next stage

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Aaron Samuels Blavity
Blavity chief operating
officer Aaron Samuels.

Blavity

  • Blavity
    cofounder Aaron Samuels said it took two years for the digital
    media company to get funding. Now the LA-based media startup
    has raised $8.5 million.
  • Samuels said the challenge he faces now is keeping the
    company authentic as it grows.
  • He spoke about the startup’s next stage at Business Insider’s

    IGNITION
    conference in New York.

Blavity, an LA-based media startup centered around black
millennials, has become something of a phenomenon. Against the
odds, it’s raised $8.5 million, a rarity for an early stage,
minority-run digital media company. Despite that early success,
cofounder and COO Aaron Samuels said he’s “terrified” about the
next stage.

“The last four years has been a wild ride, and still is,” he said
during Business Insider’s IGNITION Conference in New York on
Tuesday. “We’re 50 employees. To get to the next stage means
letting go of control, autonomy. What we really need to do now is
trust our team, our clients, our partners, and allow things to
run. One of the scariest things is to create a system and then
say, ‘I’m not in the weeds anymore.’”

The Providence, Rhode Island, native said his early years writing
poetry drew him to the chance to help start a sustainable media
company focused on stories about the black diaspora.

“Black people drive culture,” he said. “Everybody knows this in
your heart. It’s trends in technology, music, pop culture. The
problem is, what happens is, mainstream culture looks at the
trends and profits off them and black people don’t capture the
value.”

Getting funding early on was a challenge, so Blavity ran for two
years without any outside investment.

“You’d hear coded language, people saying, ‘the market’s too
small,’ which is absurd” given the buying power of black people,
he said.


Read more:

How Blavity became a media force for black millennials

Samuels also talked about the challenges of building a startup,
working out of a warehouse where he and cofounder Morgan DeBaun
worked — and slept.

“I’m living with my boss and we’re just in the office, never
stopped working,” he said. “She’s an incredible CEO. Morgan is up
at 5 o’clock every morning, and I’m a night person. It was
efficient for a company, but for personal health, it took a
toll.”

As the company, now at 50 people, grows, Samuels is also
concerned with staying true to the company’s roots. He said he’s
aware that as a straight, mixed-race man, he has advantages
others don’t that can bias content. To keep those biases in
check, he said, the company focuses on hiring broadly and staying
close to the community Blavity serves.

“That’s always going to be a priority for us,” he said.

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