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The Anatomy of a Startup

Roland Martin was on point with this autopsy of Black News Channel (BNC) ( I’ve been building kweliTV slowly & intentionally for years. While the networks Martin mentioned started with millions, I launched with a $20K grant!

Here’s our investment breakdown:

  • 2017 – $20K TEDCO 
  • 2018 – $20K TEDCO, $50K (half went to NYC living & travel expenses)
  • 2019 – $10K Lightship Capital 
  • 2020 – $0 
  • 2021 – $100K Motley Fool Ventures
  • 2022 – $100K New Media Ventures

Between 2017-2020, we only raised $100K total.

Large streamers probably spend $100K on toilet paper on one floor of their building in a week… So, to stay alive, I didn’t pay myself until 2020. I only paid my filmmakers (60% of net subscription revenue) and necessary tech expenses. I was the only employee for YEARS doing almost everything. 

Thanks to my first $100K check last year, I felt comfortable enough to hire my first full-time employee July 2021. So now there are two of us. Despite lack of resources, a team, and a true marketing budget, since 2019 our year over year revenue has grown about 45%. It’s been a slow build. 

Most VCs want growth at all costs, which means burning cash fast & hiring even with no revenue. I can’t afford to do that. We don’t have the resources AND I just don’t believe in that burn cash model. Y’all, I’m cheap as hell 😂! I spend based on what we make — simple!

I don’t want the life or death of kweliTV to be contingent on whether a billionaire or Silicon Valley investor write me a check. Some investors have asked how I will compete with Netflix or HBOMax. I tell them, I can’t! There is no check large enough to do that. Remember Quibi? I’m intentional about who invests in kweliTV and our growth strategy. It’s about diversifying revenue globally & differentiating ourselves in the market. Our mission is to be a global, unapologetically Black platform that’s accessible to all. Even with our small marketing budget, 19% of our subscribers are outside of North America.

Now, that means we’re not growing as fast as I would like to. I work 15–18-hour days; I wear multiple hats. I haven’t taken a day off in over 5 yrs. I can only afford $15K annually in advertising. There are features we would love to add to the platform that that we can’t afford. We haven’t been able to create original programming yet. This is not the idea situation, but I truly believe in what I’m building. 

Even though our goal is not to compete or compare ourselves to the big streamers, I’m very PROUD that kweliTV has been named one of the Top 10 best movie streaming services ( by PC Magazine — the only Black-owned platform on the list!

Our listing in PC Magazine proves that even with few resources, you can make a huge impact. This journey has been long and extremely difficult, yet so rewarding. The letters and notes I receive from our customers and filmmakers keep me going when my tank is empty. 

There are so many Black-owned media companies out here trying to figure it out. Part of BNC’s failure was lack of viewership. Let’s start supporting our Black media with our eyeballs and wallets… like @kweliTV’s equity campaign ( #shamelessplug.