Morgan Stanley
  • Access & Opportunity Podcast
  • Dec 17, 2020

Morgan DeBaun: For Us, By Us




Carla Harris: On this episode of Access and Opportunity, we welcome Entrepreneur Morgan DeBaun, Founder and CEO of Blavity Inc.

Blavity has raised over $9 million in venture funding, and its brands reach over 80 million monthly users. All this began when, at age 24, Morgan noticed that mainstream media was lacking a voice for black millennials.

In this episode, Morgan takes us through her roots in St. Louis, the struggles of bootstrapping your own business, and what she’s learned about fundraising along the way. Come on and join me for the ride.

Harris: Well, good afternoon, Morgan.

Morgan DeBaun: How are you?

Harris: I am great. Thank you so much for being here with us today. And it's a pleasure to have you on the show.

DeBaun: Thanks for having me, Carla.

            Morgan’s beginnings in St.Louis and Washington University

Harris: So let's jump right in. Let's take it all the way back to your roots in St. Louis. And so talk to us about growing up. What was it like? Where did entrepreneurship even fit in the picture? Where did you get the bug? And talk to us about that and your journey to Washington University.

DeBaun: Sure. So, yeah, I'm a St. Louis girl, through and through. If you were to ask the 18 year old me if I would have ever left St. Louis, she would've said absolutely not. And if you had said I'd be living in L.A., she'd say, Girl, girl, bye. I've come a long way. But St. Louis is is my heart and soul. My parents are amazing. And my dad went to Howard, my mom went to Howard and I was state. So, you know, the product of very proud black folks. And in a lot of ways I think my upbringing has guided me in more ways than I think that I knew. Now as I'm getting older, I can see how intentional my family, my collective family was in terms of making sure that I was whole and that I was unapologetic about who I was and in a lot of ways quite ambitious about challenging the status quo and rules. I didn't really think about being an entrepreneur. That wasn't a career trajectory that was near me or around me often. What I will say about my parents is that they were both, they make a lot of things out of nothing. So my mom is an artist, a creative, a quilter. She was always scrapbooking and making things. My father's a sickle-cell doctor. He applies and gets fantastic, huge grants from the NIH for sickle cell research. So he's constantly advocating for others and stretching a dollar to make sure that he can make the biggest impact. So I was certainly surrounded by entrepreneurial people. I also started investing in the stock market relatively early, so around 13, 14. And I think that was probably the first time, really, when I was like, oh, money, like currency, and returns. And certainly got the investing bug quite early and really competed with my dad on who could have the best returns.

Harris: So he started to get you interested in the stock market and investing.

DeBaun: He absolutely did. Yeah.

Harris: OK. All righty. So Wash U. Was that because you wanted to be at home?

DeBaun: You know, I only applied to one university and I applied early admission and Wash U, I got a fantastic scholarship, it was a scholarship program for diverse students and it was a really fantastic program in addition to a merit based scholarship. So I wanted to be in a community within the community. I really sought out, and this has been the case I think for many parts of my career, finding my tribe and having a space of nurturing where I can have mentors and advisors built into the structure of navigating my life has always been important to me. So Washington University has a program called The Urban Scholars. It was led by this amazing man named James McCloud. And so I'm part of that community and as soon as they let you in, you say yes, you never decline getting that scholarship. And that's also where I met my co-founders. So we started out all as urban scholars. Jeff, who's my CTO, Aaron who's our COO, it's definitely a tribe within a tribe at Wash U.

Harris: OK, well, that's a very important point because often founders find each other through their networks. And that's important for our listeners to understand that you cannot do it alone. So having people that are with you on the ground floor that you trust and that you share some commonality with is part of the key to success. So now let's fast forward. You graduate from Wash U. You're at Intuit. So where did you get this idea for Blavity? And congratulations, by the way, you have just had an amazing, amazing success. But 24 years old, you started Blavity. Where did that come from?

Starting Blavity Inc.

DeBaun: I was 24 years old and oh man. She did not know what she was getting herself into. You know, I moved to Silicon Valley from St. Louis. It was not a normal career path. Again, this was eight years ago, nine years ago almost. So it wasn't the cool thing to do yet. You know, Silicon Valley hadn't mainstreamed in the way that it certainly is now. So it was a bit of a leap of faith into a world that was quite unknown and Intuit I was actually a part, this is a thread in my career, I was a part of another smaller tribe. It was a rotational development program where you were sponsored by executives and you got mentoring and coaching and you could go through different parts of the company for two years. And then, you know, it's supposed to be kind of like a leadership fast track because you get poured into, get access to the CEO, all the fun things, workshops, trips, all the good stuff. So I loved my job. I felt completely, and loved learning. I love learning new things. And Silicon Valley is a place of constant evolution because of the trends of technology and the speed that we all move in. So I was completely infatuated with like this idea of building companies and building products at scale. And how do we use technology as a way to increase access to information and increase access to cheaper ways of doing things and one of the challenges for me and what led me to Blavity was that as a product manager and seeing so much behind the scenes about how these products were created, there were very few times when the users groups that we were studying, you know we would do these things called follow me homes where you go into the customer's homes or workplaces and watch them actually use the products. Very few people were black or even people of color. Different products weren't translated natively into Spanish, despite the fact that you know, the Spanish population and small business Spanish population’s growing exponentially. And I found it just so odd to me that these incredibly smart business people were missing out on 30 to 40 percent of the future American population and consumer population. And to me, that felt like an opportunity, right? And what was interesting, and it still is interesting in Silicon Valley, although I think we've made some progress, is that there are very few people that make people of color their number one target user, when they're developing products, when they're designing algorithms, when they're inputting data, when they're testing different technologies and innovations. It's very rarely that we are their number one user persona. And therefore, the products aren't always a reflection of prioritizing our unique needs. And so Blavity to me was about how do we build a company using this framework and methodology of innovation, of building for the consumer, of delighting people and making things seamless. And prioritize a very specific user, which is black millennials

Harris: Wow. And and certainly you did not find a lot of people who were thinking the same way, because part of what we've learned in our white paper research at Morgan Stanley is that while intellectually VCs can understand that there might be a market and there might be an opportunity to make money there, they don't think about it as a true opportunity expansion risk, if you will, the way they might have looked at cloud computing and driverless cars and software as a service, you know, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. And yet this is a market you don't know anything about. And a big market and a market that's loyal and that does have discretionary capital, and certainly disproportionately uses that discretionary capital on brand related things.

So you found yourself in a position that most people weren't pursuing. So what made you decide to go ahead and start Blavity? And how did you get the name? I've often wondered that, first of all.

DeBaun: So Blavity stands for Black Gravity. It's a word that was prevalent in my vocabulary at Wash U. It was a word that we used to describe that energy, that moment when all of the sudden all the black people start coming together and you're like, where did you guys come from? Is there a bat signal that went out that said that black people are sitting over here, like, do you even go here anymore? Didn't you graduate? You know, like Blavity was that name. That was the that was the frame, the verb that describes people coming together and finding each other. And it was a space for me and many, many other people where we saw ourselves, where we felt heard in a sea of people who didn't look like us, who didn't have the same experience as us. That was the moment at the lunch table where Blavity was happening that we all felt at home. You know, and I wanted to, my co-founders and I wanted to build a company that always felt like, you know, you're having a bad day and you're sitting in your cubicle and, you know, there's stuff happening in our community, but everybody else around you seems oblivious to that. And you're just having a tough time. Just go to the website. We see you. You know and you can feel that little sigh of relief like you're not crazy, this is real. You know, your experience is real. Or just joy. You know, you can go on our Instagram page and see some cute kids giggling with their dads, you know, and it's just it's just normalizing our everyday experiences and our joy.

Harris: Outstanding. So talk to me about where you wanted to start first. You said you wanted to make sure that people were affirmed, you didn't say the word affirmed, but I'm going to use the word affirm because often that is what people need. When you said, 'make sure you know you're not crazy', right? It's the same in the corporate environment, a lot of times people would come into my office and and say, 'oh my God, this is what's going on'. And the first thing that I would think to do, Morgan, was to affirm them and say, yes, you are right. This is exactly what's happening. So good nose, you're right about that. And oh, by the way, you're not the first, you won't be the last. So don't think that you're an island. So there's something very powerful in affirming other people. So how did you decide what you were going to start with? It wasn't something that was necessarily consumer related. Was it news related? How did you start there? And then let’s talk to us about the discipline of how you added onto that initial platform.

DeBaun: So one of the things that was important to me, I knew I'm a pragmatist, like I consider myself a pragmatic leader in a lot of different ways. So I knew that the odds were against me in from fundraising point of view and likelihood of success. There's a lot of things I don't need to say. You know, you guys talk about this often, all the numbers. So I wanted to make sure that I picked something that was a reflection of something that my team and I and my vision of where we could be the best, right? Where we could be domain experts. I wasn't gonna pick something that required 20, 30 years experience because I didn't have that. I was 24. So out the gate needed something that I could be competent at and my team could quickly become experts on. I needed an industry that I cared about and that I was passionate about. A consumer group, black young black folks, that I felt like even if we were going to be broke, even if this takes 10 years to scale, you know, I'm OK because I am rocking with people and I'm serving people that are important to me and I'm motivated by more things than just a business outcome. So that was the second thing and then the third was an industry that is antiquated and there is a clear technology and product gap for a outdated industry. So in this case, for Blavity, it was a lot of black media companies did not make that transition to digital early enough. They've since caught up. But back in the day, again, we're talking six years ago, some people were just now putting up their Web sites. They were magazines and now they have a Web site. They didn't really do social media well. They weren't really staffing their social content teams, thinking about the community that is growing online, despite the fact that the black audience and its consumers and users, we are early adopters of technology, right? We are drivers of culture on Twitter, on Vine when Periscope was happening, all the things we are early adopters. So it was very important to me that I used the strengths that I had, which was the Silicon Valley mindset, to build something that was able to disrupt very quickly. And content and the Internet is kind of an equalizer. You know, if people love it, they're going to watch it. They're going to share it. They're going to read it. It doesn't matter if it costs a million dollars or five dollars. You know, our audience does not discriminate. So that was also really important to me. I knew that that I needed to find something where we could scale without huge amounts of venture capital early. And so we started with media.

Fundraising for Blavity

Harris: OK. So now let's talk about the fundraising journey. When did you realize that you were going to need external capital in order to scale this and that it was an imperative? And how did you think about going after it, especially given that you just said you started with the mindset of, oh, my gosh, everything is stacked against me based on my demographic. So talk to us about that 'aha', and then how you attacked it?

DeBaun: Well, Carla, I resisted it as long as humanly possible. I used all my savings. My stock returns. I was like, I will not take this money from these people if it's the last thing that I do. Because I wanted to make sure that Blavity could be true to who we were without the outside influences and outside pressure. Because when you take venture capital money, the dynamic changes. My employees have told me, especially my early employees, they're like, 'Oh man, I miss the old days' and I miss it too. You know, it's completely different when you're raising money and you're taking millions and millions of dollars from someone and you're selling a return, right. When you raise venture capital, and I don't think enough young black founders, we fully have accepted this. But when you raise venture capital, you're saying you are going to sell your company. You're going to get it acquired, right, merger and acquisition, or you're going to go bankrupt or IPO. That's it. Those are your four options. There's not much in between. It's not we're gonna just be here and we're going to be profitable and we're going to just exist in perpetuity. That's not actually what you signed up for in venture capital world. And I knew that going into it. And I was very reluctant to, I wanted to hold on to to who we were as long as possible so we could really be formative in the company's early days. And so I bootstrapped it for a year with my savings. I quit my job. So double dipping into my savings to pay for my overhead of living, plus investing in the business. And we were growing too fast. You know, the server started breaking. We started to get hacked and targeted with hacks, ironically, from Russia. Again, this was six years ago, and it was really expensive to keep the servers up and we had to hire engineers and things. So it wound up getting too expensive. And so I made the decision that I would go fundraise.

Harris: Yeah. So, Morgan, I have to stop here because you have just articulated a very important playbook point that we would like to have, enunciated or underscored for the entrepreneurs that are listening. You know, venture capital dollars are great dollars because they can be deep pockets. They can expose you to great intellect of people that could sit on your board. They can make the right introductions, customer introductions, supplier introductions. But make no mistake, they live to be able to return proceeds to their limited partners. So there must be some kind of exit. They are not in the game for the long run. So they are there to enable your exit in an IPO or enable your exit in a private transaction better known as an M&A transaction. Now, the other way that you could do it is you could grow into a multibillion dollar private company. But you need to be able to talk about that upfront and how you will make sure that they get the exit, you know. Are you going to agree on a two x three x four X exit by a certain date? And if that has not transpired and you have met all of these milestones, then they can force your hand into a public market or private market exit. Just to talk about a little bit of the nuances of what that negotiation might look like. So you can stay a private company, but you're going to have to make that assurance upfront and know that that's always an exit trigger for them. So you made the decision that I will take the money because I do want to scale the company, you know. As you think about what you have been able to get done because you did that, do you think knowing what you know now with full transparency, there would have been any other way to get to where you are now?

DeBaun: Absolutely not. Venture capital has given us the privilege that so many of our white male friends have, which is you can fail and your failure doesn't bankrupt you. So you can take bets, right. We've been able to take aggressive bets. I've acquired two companies in the last four years. We have built products that failed. We have tested video series that no one watches. We have been able to truly innovate and fail. And that's a part of why you raise venture capital, right? It is so that you have that safety net to aim high. They want you to fail, right. Because they want to make sure that you're aiming really high. If you're playing it safe, you're not going to get the return. You're not gonna get the multiple. So it's been very important to me that, and for the safety and the stability of the business, that we've had access to venture capital so we could grow and truly serve our audience to the best of our ability. It's something that is also, it is also a catch 22, Carla, right? Because then you do have to respond. I have a board now. My fantastic investors, I’m very lucky, the majority of my investors, I think we're almost at, almost at 50 percent or more are people of color or led by funds that are led by people of color. So I feel very good and blessed with the group of people I have been able to have on my cap table, but I've heard horror stories where, the folks that are investing in your company don't agree with the operations of the company. Don't agree with the vision and want things to be bigger, better, faster, and can take over.

Harris: Did you have any experience as you were starting to raise capital that made you say, oh, really? You're asking me that? Or, Oh, why do I have to offer this? Can you share some of that with with our listeners? Because it's important that they realize that while they may have these experiences and they look like this, like Morgan is about to tell you, they don't have to be a deterrent.

DeBaun: Fundraising is one of the most challenging things that anyone could possibly do. There's a lot of uncomfortable things that happen when there's a power dynamic where someone can offer you millions and you need the money, right? And so there's a there’s a, people can get away with saying a lot of things or insinuating a lot of things, and you have to really do a decision making calculus on it. Am I going to, you know, step up?

Harris: Am I going to react?

DeBaun: Am I going to react? Or am I going to collect this coin so that I can go and invest in my young POC company and serve my young POC audience. And I'ma come back and write about this person in my book and I'm gonna get them later. Right? Like, I had to keep my eye on the prize and stay focused. And so, yeah, I mean, so many different stories, frankly. I've raised five times, right? So that's a lot of fundraising. That's a lot of conversations. That’s a lot of no’s.

Harris: Excellent. And that's another thing that is a great playbook point, is not to let the emotion get in the way. And in the period that we have been in, behind the terrible tragedy with Mr. Floyd, I've had a lot of conversations with senior leaders of color who, you know, feel some kind of way ab now about now being access for their, you know, ideas and their solutions in this environment. And I have said repeatedly for the last seven months: Don't let your anger blow your opportunity. Here's a point in time where you can have a constructive and productive conversation that can exponentially move you along your journey. Use it, you know, access it. And it sounds like you know, you had that lesson, you might not have had those words, but you certainly had those actions.

DeBaun: Absolutely. And sometimes I advise like ,the entrepreneurs that I advise now that are in the seed stage or angel stage, and I'm like, you know, don't burn the bridge. Don't sweat it. Because a lot of these times, people have short term memory, especially investors. They talk to so many people. I've had investors. I'll tell you a quick, funny story. So back in the day Y Combinator was starting this things with like office hours, they're like, if you're a young founder and you want to get into YC we're going to do office hours so we can advise you. I got declined for office hours. You know, I got a B minus in entrepreneurship in college. Like you just got to move forward, and don't let anyone else define who you are.

Diversifying revenue by creating events

Harris: Outstanding. So talk to me about EmpowerHer and AfroTech. What made you decide to now go to events?

DeBaun: Stability is very important to me and important to our team. And therefore, events is a really interesting business because it is highly manual, right? It’s not an automated tech event.

Harris: Yes. And capital intensive.

DeBaun: It is capital intensive up front. However, it happens every year and it is a like repeatable model. And it also adds a cash influx in terms of a cyclical business, which media is a cyclical business in terms of how advertising dollars go. So events was a fantastic way for us to build relationships early on with fantastic companies. And it was something, a model that people really understood and that they trusted early on. So EmpowerHer was our first conference in New York. I think it was like maybe three hundred women. I mean, it was small, but it was also like the best, it was a really fun way to bring black women together of our generation and then to build early relationships with clients and sponsors that then we pivoted and said, hey, let's do some digital content after the event so that people started to get comfortable with buying media from us. And we also started to learn the media business, I had to learn the vocabulary. What's an impression? Well, how do you measure it versus how do I measure it? There's a lot of learning curve that me and my team had to do really early on as we brought Blavity to the market.

            Acquiring Brands

Harris: When you and I were talking before we started this formal conversation, I was saying that one of the the holes, if you will, that early stage entrepreneurs fall into is as they are being successful, people come to them with all these different ideas, 'hey, you could do this' and 'you could leverage what you're doing there and you can do that'. And before you know it, they're dissipating all of their energies and moving further and further away from the core of the business that they started or farther away from their superpower. So talk to us about how you have created a discipline. What is your plan? And therefore, how you decide what you're going to buy.

DeBaun: Yeah. So a couple of things. I knew we wanted to be big fast. We had more demand early on because there weren't that many media companies that were focusing on our demographic and had the digital capabilities that we had. And so what you do as an entrepreneur and most people can consider this is you build it or you buy it, right? So do I want to wait 5 to 10 years to build a brand that people trust? Or can I buy a brand that people trust and has a loyal following but perhaps doesn't have the capabilities and the operating or the cash flow that we have that can support that business? And so Shadow and Act, fantastic company, started by Tambay, you know, beloved in the entire black Hollywood space, and team of one, right? So we knew that we could bring some operations and technology, redo the website, update the branding, add Instagram pages and Facebook pages, and make sure that the entire ecosystem made sense and it would fit naturally into the business. So that was the first acquisition and then the second was TravelNoire. Same similar story, fantastic brand, amazing founder, visionary in terms of pushing our culture forward, in terms of storytelling and representation of black travelers around the world. Mostly on Instagram, had a physical in-person travel business that was doing group trips around the world, and a growing online paid membership community when we acquired them. And so, worked with that founder and then also with our team to build up the media side of the business, make the website actually have content, hire the editors and the writers and again integrate them into the company. Now, we had to make some tough choices. We had to sunset certain businesses that were not our core competency, Carla. Like, there was a lot of people that were very upset that we took out the travel operating, group trips part of the business. So I got a lot of angry e-mails right? And I'm sure there's some people listening to this now like, yeah, I hate you for that. But it was also it was not going to be the right decision for Blavity Inc. as a company, it was not going to be something that was scalable across multiple brands. And we knew we could not be excellent at it at scale. So sometimes you have to make those tough choices.

Harris: But that's exactly what I wanted you to talk about for our listeners, because it's having the discipline around why you're doing what you're doing. So if I could put a thread through what you said, you say I have millions of followers now. I have a huge audience that happens to be black millennials. And I'm focusing on content that is going to be highly valued by this audience. And it's not like other people don't want this audience as well. And what do they want? They want stories. They want content. They want news. So anything that's going to allow me to have a differentiated product to that audience around things that they already value, that's what I'm doing. And so any brand that that could benefit from that asset is a brand that might be attractive. That now has become your acquisition discipline. Am I saying it right?

DeBaun: Yeah. Its acquisition or build it ourselves. So, for example, they want jobs. That would be the next one, I would say. Right. Like young black folks, we want to have fun, we want to be informed, we want to see ourselves reflected in our content, we want to be employed and make money. So AfroTech, which is a brand we built organically. It started as a conference. We attached media onto it afterwards. And now the Web site does huge crazy numbers because we're showcasing the fantastic career development opportunities, promotions, highlighting people who are doing fantastic business deals, venture funding, when people are raising money. And so it's become this fun, exciting live community that doesn't just exist during the conference, but exists all year. And we're launching a jobs platform as well to make sure that those experiences and those clients that are engaging in recruiting for DNI at the conference can now recruit year round.

Creating Social Change through Popular Culture

Harris: Yes. And I applaud you for that because very much like us, you are trying to eradicate the statement, 'oh, I can't find any.' So you make it you make it really easy for people to be able to find some. So way to go, high five, kindred spirits, sister I hear you. So now let's talk about, before we actually go to our fun lightning round. I want to talk a little bit about the intersection of popular culture and social change. It sounds like you are of the mind that you can use popular culture to actually instigate social change. Can you talk a little bit about that, given we are where we are?

DeBaun: My point of view has always been you have to mix it together because the conversations that we're having at the dinner table and when we're sitting on the couch watching the news, these are also personal conversations. It's about how it impacts you and your family. It's how it impacts your mental, hearing the stories, watching the videos, watching the violence. And then you're also having to operate and still show up every day as if you are not impacted in a lot of spaces. And so for me, when it comes to kind of cultural conversations and weaving social justice into cultural conversations, I think that's the most appropriate way to do it. At one point, we had considered if we needed to separate and have a very specific like police brutality reporting, social justice brand that only did that. And we made the decision to to keep it integrated into the day to day flow of all of our brands, because I wanted people to know that it isn't going to go away, like this is something that we have to consider. And you can look at this fun meme and look at this funny black Twitter conversation and then also read this article, right? I need you to do both. And I think that we've been able to keep a wide audience that feels informed, but not constantly attacked and that has allowed more people to engage in some of these social change conversations that we must drive forward.

What’s Next and Advice for young entrepreneurs

Harris:  So what's next, Morgan?

DeBaun: The first thing was, we were having a great year and then COVID hit. So, first was just buckle down, you know, address it head on. Pivot the business. Pivot the conference into an online experience. You manage the team. Make sure they're taken care of. A lot of different changes that we had to do this year. Now we're through kind of that painful Q2, Q3, and so we can focus on 2021, and actually building out the strategy for continuing to scale. So we're thinking a lot about our video and streaming capabilities now that everyone is at home. We've strengthened that muscle as a company. And so daily content that's streaming on lunch table, like I said, building out our core competency on the recruiting and DNI side. And then as well, thinking about, from a content point of view with our intellectual property, what are the other formats that we want to bring some of these really strong stories and tentpoles into the universe. Podcasts, do we want to consider linear, lots of different options and so starting to build out the team now that's going to execute on that strategy.

Harris: And you said earlier that you've learned a lot about hiring. Can you share something for our entrepreneurs about what you've learned there? The big lessons, the big 'aha's there?

DeBaun: You know, I think that I haven't always gotten hiring right. Which, you know, I think is a really big challenge as a CEO and a young CEO, because you're talking about people and people's lives and people who trusted you and taken a chance on you, and take a chance on your vision. And so I would just say, you know, like hire experts to really be in your H.R. team and to coach and advise you. It's not always easy, but it is effective. I think in when you are out punching above your weight class, hire other people who have done it. You don't need to do everything on your own.

Harris: Yeah. One of the the pieces of advice that we give to some of our lab companies is, you know, use your kitchen cabinet, right? Many of us who are working in the lab, we have interviewed thousands of people. And there's no reason, as a young CEO that you should have that muscle. You know, you haven't done it. In your case, you were twenty four, twenty six, twenty eight, you know, managing and hiring folks. And you have never done a lot of interviewing. So why should you be good at it? And if you are crazed and things are really going like gangbusters and the company is growing exponentially, you know, your temptation is to reach for yourself. And that's exactly what you don't need. You need someone that's going to fill the gap between you and whatever the need happens to be. So the advice that we give people is find your three or four candidates that look good, but then have three or four people that you send them all to and you give them the job description and let them help you narrow it down to one or two. And now you only interview for fit and not necessarily for the other things. So that that could be a strategy as well.

DeBaun: I love that. And that is one of the benefits of raising venture funding, especially from venture funds that have serious backing. Corporate VCs are fantastic for that because they've got an entire company that can advise you. So when GV, let our A one of the reasons I went with GV's term sheet was because I got the Google resources. So I've been coached and advised by a lot of people. And I think that more of our communities need that earlier. You know all of this fun DNI startup stuff was not around when I was fundraising, when I was, you know, in my seed around. So I hope that that this new generation of folks that are raising their seed round now are going to be better than me as a young CEO.

Harris: And what's the last piece of advice, if you had to give them one piece of advice, what would you tell them?

DeBaun: I'd tell them aim high. Like this is your world. There is no reason to babystep this moment in time. Aim really ridiculously high. Have a grand vision for yourself, for your company, for the people and the lives that you can impact because no one's ever going to aim higher than you for your own vision. OK. And so you've got to start with a huge grand vision.

Lightning Round

Harris: I hear that. OK. Well, we have a tradition on Access and Opportunity where we want our listeners to get a chance to know you in a more intimate way. So we just go through a few quick lightning round questions and you answer the first thing that comes to your mind. Are you ready?

DeBaun: I'm ready.

Harris: California or Missouri.

DeBaun: Missouri.

Harris: I knew you were going to say that. What is your favorite moment in history? And it could be your history or history as you studied it.

DeBaun: Of my history? Graduating from high school. History-history? Oh Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and the whole black family in the White House. I mean.

Harris: OK.

Harris: Coffee or tea?

DeBaun: If I'm on best behavior tea.

Harris: Working in the office or working from home.

DeBaun: Ima work from home.

Harris: If you had a talk show, who would be your first guest?

DeBaun: I could have any guest?

Harris: Any guest living or dead.

DeBaun: Oh Sojourner Truth.

Harris: One word to describe your legacy.

DeBaun: Unapologetic.


Harris: Morgan DeBaun, it has been my honor and privilege. Thank you very much, ma'am, for being on access and opportunity.

DeBaun: Thank you so much, Carla.

Harris: Thank you all for joining us on this episode of Access & Opportunity. Be sure to stay tuned this season as we speak to more influencers in the sports, media and entertainment fields who've committed to reframing the narrative for women and people of color. You won’t want to miss it.

Harris: What did you learn today from Morgan DeBaun? Send us your thoughts at We would love to hear from you. Subscribe to Access & Opportunity on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Thanks for coming along!

Carla speaks with media entrepreneur Morgan DeBaun, Founder and CEO of Blavity, a voice for Black millennials in the media and marketing landscape, about staying true to your vision as you grow and evolve.

Morgan DeBaun is one of the first African-American women to raise over $1 million in venture funding. Now she has raised more than $9 million for her company, Blavity, and its brands reach over 80 million monthly users. In this episode, Morgan takes us through her roots in St. Louis, the struggles of bootstrapping your own business, and what she’s learned about fundraising along the way. All this began when, at age 24, Morgan noticed that mainstream media was lacking a voice for Black millennials. Come on and join us for the ride.

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