An online media brand for black women has raised more than £335,000 in investment from private investors and an equity crowdfund.
Black Ballad founder and chief executive Tobi Oredein said the funding was a “testament to how much this community loves this publication”.
Some £127,000 came from venture capitalists and private investors, while just over £200,000 – above the £120,000 target – came from a Seedr equity crowdfunding campaign.
Oredein said the fundraising showed how Black Ballad “is unrivalled in our relationship with this audience. I don’t know any other company that has black women as invested in its success in the ways we do.”
Oredein (pictured) told Press Gazette: “Trying to get investment as a media business and as a publication, it’s a hard task. I think some VCs and angels have lost their faith in media of becoming a business that can be eight figure or nine figure. But we found a few angels and VCs who saw the potential in Black Ballad and see what Black Ballad can be.
“And I was just kind of like ‘I think this community can do it – how amazing would it be for black women to be our investors as well as our members and readers?’ I think it tightens that relationship.”
Oredein started Black Ballad, which aims to tell stories through the eyes of black British women, as a free-to-access website in 2014 after her contract at a weekly TV magazine came to an end and she struggled to break into women’s lifestyle and entertainment journalism.
She started to realise the women being hired “all looked the same – they were white, thin, quite glamorous”, she said, adding that she did not feel she matched the profile and would not break in. “You know what, I’ll just give myself a job,” she said she then thought.
Oredein also felt there was a gap in the market for black women that she was well placed to address. Many black women in her life had said they wanted something dedicated to black British or European women. The main comparators were Essence or Ebony, and the market, in general, focused either on hair or simply was not quite what they wanted to read in the UK.
Then, in 2016, Oredein decided a membership model making the most of Black Ballad’s targeted audience was the best way to create a sustainable business and pay writers.
‘Community is the heartbeat’
Black Ballad now has more than 1,000 paying members with nearly 22,000 registered users on email and a community of 70,000 across social media.
Members who pay £4.99 per month or £49 per year can access all content and get discounts to events and partner brands.
Oredein said it was important to constantly talk to the community to get insights into what they want – Black Ballad, for example, starts by asking new members questions about themselves ranging from their age and location to what they are interested in reading and how they want to change the world. It says its ability to collect data from its audience sets it apart from other brands.
“I think one of the things that media has done really wrong actually, in women’s lifestyle in particular, they’ve had a certain woman and man, the editors or the publishers, and they believe that their views reflect all women and they don’t get to see the breadth and diversity of the group they’re trying to serve,” she said, arguing that media brands need to put more into their audience insights.
She added that, with a membership model, it is important to find out who your “superfans” are and be at peace with the fact not everyone will want to pay for your content.
Black Ballad offers those who sign up with their email address three free articles per month plus a free Sunday email newsletter.
Black Ballad is run by a team of six, including Oredein’s husband and co-founder Bola Awoniyi as chief operating officer. The team also includes a head of editorial, junior content creator, social media executive and office manager.
Part of the new investment will go towards making three full-time hires in editorial, social and commercial.
There will also be investment in technology to make it easier to manage the memberships and in content to increase the article count from up to five stories a week to at least seven from the start of next year. There will also be more investment in freelances.
Black women ‘undervalued’ by brands
Advertising has become Black Ballad’s biggest revenue stream.
The brand has worked with advertisers and partners such as Waterstones, Tangle Teezer, Dove, Maltesers and the NHS after arguing it is the “best place for brands to reach, understand, engage with this audience”. It has also partnered with other media outlets including BBC, Refinery 29, Huffpost UK and Yahoo.
“For so long the black female consumer has been so underserved and so undervalued by so many brands,” Oredein said.
“That’s how we see advertising for brands – it’s making those authentic connections between brands and audiences. We don’t want every brand, every brand isn’t right for Black Ballad and this audience, but we try to work with the right brands.”
Ultimately she hopes to continue growing Black Ballad to become more than a media business, but more of a lifestyle brand with, for example, co-working spaces and events.
“We want to be the biggest media publication for black women in Europe,” Oredein said.