The cofounder who raised $8.5 million for his media startup Blavity says he knows what he has to do next, and he’s ‘terrified’

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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