Fast Company

Black Web's Next Up

When I first saw BlackWeb2.0 over two years ago I liked it and dropped its founder Angela Benton (pictured) a note. I've kept an eye on BlackWeb2.0 ever since.

To say that the past decade has been tumultuous for Black media is an understatement. As far as I can see that tumult will continiue. We've seen sites we like such as Global Grind evolve, sites we've trusted like SOHH and All Hip Hop hold steady in turbulent times, and some we love like Vibe stumble and fall as we hold out hope for resurrection. Big sites like Interactive One are growing organically and through aquisition, but even they had to sacrifice GIANT magazine. And on the horizon are new sites like the still-in-Beta Creative Control TV that will show us some sides of the culture we haven't seen in a while. But there's still no leader.

I read BlackWeb2.0 as an early indicator of what to expect and what might work. Looking for that next leader. I want to use this space to talk to smart people who are building what's next and below is a brief conversation with BlackWeb2.0's founder Angela Benton:

1. Were you in media before launching BlackWeb2.0  -- what’s your background?

A little. My background is actually in design. I have a BFA in Visual Communications and also attended SCAD for a bit in their Graphic Design MFA program.  I've worked for a lot of dot coms (Bizjournals.com, RealEstate.com, LendingTree.com, and most recently RushmoreDrive.com) however my work really started in print media.

I have worked with several regional niche publications, but I got most of my experience working with a national shelter publication for African-Americans called Homes of Color Magazine.  I was the Visual Design Manager there but held several roles that were responsible for the brand, online and offline.  The roles was like a Creative Director role. I also got to work very closley with the publisher.  It was a great experience.

2. How have you seen the Black Web evolve since you launched your site?

We started in August 2007, since then I think there as been a lot of growth in the "Black Web."  The number of
entrepreneurs we meet in the Internet space who are African-American are increasing a lot which is great.  We use to have to look for people like this, now these people are much easier to find and in most instances contact us through our contact form.  

I've also noticed a lot of really young
entrepreneurs who are also builders not just dealmakers.  Once upon a time in this space most entrepreneurs were really in the content game, I think African-Americans are understanding the value of applications and many are developing their own, whether they are for the diaspora or not.

3. How has the decline of off-line urban media brands like King or Vibe affected what you’re seeing on-line?

It has affected what we are seeing online a lot.  Magazines use to be the "hot" thing to launch in media.  Now it is a website or application.  But what we are seeing ins't really unique to Black Media, it is happening across all media right now.  Many print shops are closing all together or opting for a web-only presence.

4. Do you think one major brand will dominate or aggregate the African American audience or has the audience fractured in the sense that black skiers will go to ski sites, news junkies are satisfied with the Huffington Posts of the world, and on an on.

I think the audience is fractured.  People are interested in topics and they will go to the sites that serve those needs.  Sometimes this includes race, sometimes it doesn't.  

I think there is an opportunity to have one major brand dominate this space with various brands through acquisitions (see my post here).  I'm not sure if there are logically any major players in the right place right now to make these type of acquisitions.  I also think the mindset has to be there and it isn't yet.  It is still very much "dog eat dog."

5. What sites have you (BlackWeb2.0) seen doing exciting things on-line?

We just covered an app called Twellwishes that I thought was pretty interesting.  It's goal is basically to bring virtual goods to Twitter in a way that has been done on Facebook.  I think the concept is interesting considering the growth that is expected in the virtual goods market.

6. If you could create an All-Star start-up team, who would your top picks be?

Sheesh, this is a hard question!  I'd definitely have to start with the team I have right now. Everyone is great and has helped us to continue to build to where we are right now.

So I'd have to start out with my partner Markus Robinson, he is a great partner, we work very well together and he help me to see things differently when I need to.  Our staff writers Sherri Smith and Rahsheen Porter are also great, they have been on board with us the longest and have been the most consistent of all the writers we've had.  We have a lot of contributing guests and writers as well that help us put out great content as well.

In addition to that I'd love to have another me (laughs) but that is wishful thinking and I think most
entrepreneurs would wish the same thing.

I don't watch football so I tend to think of teams in terms of basketball.  I think each team needs a point guard, shooting guard, guard, forward, and center/power forward.  Each role is different but all roles are needed in order to succeed.  In business this translates for me as needing a leader, manager (operations), builder/developer, experience/design, and community builder (who also needs to nurture communities that are already existing).  So for me it is less about the people or personalities who make an all-star team and more about the roles that need to be filled in order to have an all-star team.


7. What’s next for BlackWeb2.0?

We have a lot of really great partnerships we are excited about in 2010.  Our parent company, Black Web Media, just acquired another website YBPGuide (Young Black Professional Guide) and we are working on rebranding that site and continuing along its original mission.  We'll also be launch another site that is more focused toward general business, we hope to complete that in Q1.  And somewhere in the year we'd really like to build an application.  Something that no one else in the space is thinking about doing.  I hope to be able to let you know more about it soon.

 
John N. Pasmore • New York, NY • Very.fm

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