- Blacktag is a creative-discovery platform seeking to highlight Black creatives.
- Its founders, Ousman Sahko Sow and Akin Adebowale, tell Insider about the company’s next steps.
- This is part of Insider’s entrepreneur series “Star, Rising,” which highlights early entrepreneurs.
Age: 30 and 33
Location: New York City
Business: A platform for Black artists and creators to share and discover new content.
Backstory: Blacktag hopes to be a complete hub for the Black community and turn Black creative power into economic success. It focuses on spotlighting creatives and safe spaces for Black audiences to divulge their interests. The platform is important because Black artists are often left out of conversations regarding content monetization, while white creatives take the credit — and money — for ideas that originated in the Black community.
Additionally, Ousman Sahko Sow and Akin Adebowale said their app was part of the Facebook documents leaked in October. While Sow and Adebowale launched Blacktag globally in October, they raised a multimillion-dollar seed round in November 2020, which was covered in outlets such as Vogue, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Root.
“What we focus on is specifically alternative creators and niche Black audiences that we think are currently massively underserved,” Sow told Insider.
Blacktag offers feature films, short videos on topics from astrology to video games, and profiles of the latest musicians, painters, and filmmakers. It has live entertainment, on-demand content, original offerings, and licensed products. It even has its own message app, a share button linked to other social platforms, and an integrated e-commerce platform. Discussing the app’s mention in the Facebook documents, Adebowale said it was clear the product was aspirational for those trying to learn how to authentically reach the Black community.
“Blacktag is here to connect the world and elevate Black voices within our community and invest in innovation to build something for future generations,” Adebowale said. “This team and I aren’t building Blacktag as a temporary solution. We’re here for the long run.”
Growth: In November 2020, Blacktag closed a $3.75 million seed round backed by Connect, a joint endeavor by the venture-capital firm New Enterprise Associates and the entertainment talent agency CAA. It has 100 creators on the platform, including the fashion model Aaron Rose Phillips and the creative consultant Tremaine Emory. It plans to double that number by the end of the year. The actor Issa Rae, the rapper Common, and the musician Janelle Monae are also expected to release original content on the platform. So far, Blacktag has launched five original series and licensed 10 short films and webisodes.
Before Blacktag: Adebowale founded two other design startups. Sow held jobs at Spotify, Lunchbox Studios, and Google before focusing on Blacktag full time last year.
Challenges: Trying to execute their vision has been difficult, especially as they’ve sought resources such as time and people. “It’s a lot of educating while building,” Adebowale said, adding that they often had to educate their business partners on the Black community.
Business advice: “Understand or have visibility in terms of the product that you’re trying to build,” Sow said. Adebowale stressed the importance of allowing yourself to make errors. “It is quite important to open yourself up to make mistakes because that’s what’s building your learning experiences,” he said. “That’s what’s making you smarter.”
Business mentor: Creators have been Adebowale and Sow’s biggest inspirations. Adebowale also points to activists such as Shirley Chisholm who are fighting for equity. It’s taught them about persevering in circumstances where survival seems impossible, Adebowale said.
Why is now the best time to start a business: “The best time to start a business is when you feel you are ready,” Adebowale said, adding that people should be wary of simply chasing markets and trends.
“Don’t waste your time trying to wait for people to open their pockets,” he said. “We can’t just be waiting on the world to figure it out. We got to step it up.”
On hiring: The company has 13 full-time employees, and the duo hopes to grow the company thoughtfully and raise more money.
Managing burnout: Adebowale and Sow like to spend time with their families. Both recommend therapy and good eating habits. “Give as much as possible,” Adebowale said. “Give time, give love, give cash, give energy — whatever you need to do, make sure you give to the world. Don’t just take and grab.”