Talking Shop: Building inclusive businesses with Morgan DeBaun and Melissa Butler
“I really loved the idea of building products for people at scale,” says DeBaun, creator of content for Black Americans and millennials, in the latest episode of Talking Shop. Building Blavity was “an incredible opportunity for me and my friends to make something that is for us and leverages this moment in time [by using] platforms, internet, and technology to actually build something at scale for Black people in this country.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Butler founded her vegan beauty brand out of her home. “So many Black entrepreneurs are starting in their homes, in their kitchens,” she said, noting that entrepreneurs shouldn’t feel stressed if they are figuring out how to run businesses and need help. “As an entrepreneur, you think you’re supposed to have it all figured out. [But] when you realize that you don’t necessarily have all of the means to get to the next level, then you reach out for mentorship.”
When she was scaling The Lip Bar, Butler and her team leaned heavily on Search and paid ads across a variety of platforms to reach their customers. But as entrepreneurs are scaling their businesses, DeBaun says that entrepreneurs should center everything around the customer — while also planning for the future. “You have to have deep customer empathy, be able to describe them to a T, and be very specific. And you have to have some sort of future strategy because, a lot of times, you can’t just be reactive to today; you have to be ahead of the game. It’s about taking bets and taking risks and being ahead of the curve.”
Check out the conversation between Butler and DeBaun to learn more about the steps they took to grow their small businesses to sizable brands, insights that helped them build their communities, and how tech influenced their reach with customers.
Melissa Butler: Hello, I am Melissa Butler, the founder and CEO of The Lip Bar. The Lip Bar is a vegan, cruelty free, and easy-to-use beauty company that focuses on personalization for the everyday woman.
Morgan DeBaun: I'm Morgan DeBaun, CEO and founder of Blavity Inc. We're a media company that focuses on content creation and platforms for black millennials.
Melissa Butler: Tell me what it was like in your early stages of entrepreneurship. Like, how did you, how did you become who you are?
Morgan DeBaun: I really loved this idea of building products for people at scale. It is an incredible opportunity for me and my friends to make something that is for us and that leverages this moment in time and platforms and internet and technology to actually build something at scale for black people in this country.
Melissa Butler: I feel like so many black entrepreneurs are starting in their homes ... in their kitchens. Like I started The Lip Bar, literally making lipstick in my kitchen, the first three years of the business. Like I knew nothing about business, and every single product came from my bare hands, which is really crazy now that I think about it.
Melissa Butler: I think that oftentimes as an entrepreneur, or as the CEO, you think that you're supposed to have it all figured out because it's like, hey, I’m the boss. And so when you realize that you don’t necessarily have all the means to get to the next level, then you reach out for mentorship. Then you go to Google and you’re like - how, how to make lipstick in kitchen or how to find a mentor.
Melissa Butler: We didn’t know anything about digital marketing, and I didn’t have like a marketing professional on my team. So oftentimes when you're starting and you're starting in a really scrappy way, it's on you, and I think a lot of small business owners are thinking about it in that way. We decided to go after Google search and paid ads across a variety of platforms, largely because we took a class, like we actually took a class that was sponsored by Google that allowed us to learn a little bit about paid ads.
Melissa Butler: And we tested a small ad budget of like a thousand dollars. And we were able to like do a three times return on investment. And so it was after we took that class, we actually had an intern running our performance marketing. So it wasn't something that we needed, you know, someone with years of experience. I think today, you know, we, we think about it a little bit more intentionally, but starting out, we just wanted to learn. Um, and we understood that it wasn't as intimidating as we thought.
Morgan DeBaun: When you're focusing on building a business and, and serving an underserved audience, what advice do you have for any small business owners that might be considering also building a brand or a company that is focused on people of color or people who are underserved by mainstream?
Melissa Butler: I think oftentimes when you are serving an underserved community, or if you are an underserved founder or even an underfunded founder, you tend to think of it as a disadvantage, but truly understand that it gives you opportunity...just different opportunities than what's, what's available in mainstream. And not only just the opportunity to serve your community in a more authentic way, because that's always number one, but also an opportunity for you and your team to grow in a way that other companies can't.
Morgan DeBaun: I think you gotta know your customer, you know, I think you have to really have deep customer empathy, be able to describe them to a T and be very specific. I think you have to have some sort of future strategy, because a lot of times you can’t just be reactive to today, you have to be ahead of the game. And knowing and learning about what is going to happen … it’s taking bets and taking risks and being ahead of the curve, then when the curve catches up you’re already ready to go.
Morgan DeBaun: And then last thing is to invest in a team. People should wanna work at your company, work for you, work with you, not because of the ego of being a part of a startup or small business, but because of the customer they’re serving and the mission and the value. So really being clear about your mission and values will be really important for cultivating a strong working team.
Melissa Butler: You have to be very clear on where you want to go. Make sure you're clear on your vision, make sure you're hiring the right people who can allow you to achieve that vision. And then finally make sure you have the marketing and, and the tools to market your, your vision to get you to that final goal post.
Morgan DeBaun: This has been so fun, learning more about your marketing strategy, how you've used Google search and other really cool tools to be able to inform your business.
Melissa Butler: I've had such a blast talking with you, learning from you.