Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Do you ever have a hard time finding a Black-owned business? Do you ever ask yourself, I wonder if a Black person made that? Finding Black-owned businesses takes a little bit more maneuvering. Especially when you've experienced the ease of shopping through Amazon, you could be driving home, click to order, and by the time you get home, your Amazon product is at the front door! However, to find a Black-owned business is a bit more challenging. You want to support more Black-owned companies, but you're just not sure where to look. And, now more than ever, many Black-owned businesses are in crisis.
The impact of COVID has revealed the troubling inequalities and disparities in America regarding not just the health and education of Black people but also what it means to be Black in business. Therefore, supporting Black-owned companies is not only great to do, but something that has to be done if Black companies are going to survive this pandemic. Forty-one percent of Black-owned businesses have had to close their doors due to COVID compared to 17% of White businesses. Well, one founder is on a mission to make Black businesses visible and accessible to the world.
The Creation Of The Nile List
"I love Black s***, and I have a hard time finding Black s***," said Khadijah Robinson, founder of The Nile List. Out of her frustrations in finding Black businesses to shop at, she created a Google spreadsheet for every business she came across. Over time, she became known as the Black business plug.
Khadijah noticed a need and decided to do something about it. In her research, she discovered that other directories were either outdated, only local, or didn't have enough filtering capabilities. She wanted to create a directory accessible to everyone, all over the world while also helping to drive dollars to Black businesses.
The Nile List is a digital community that connects consumers with Black-owned brands online. Every business listed with Nile is called Nilists. The companies are vetted by the Nile team to ensure that the businesses are active and Black-owned. A childhood friend gave her the idea for the name. Known as "the father of African rivers," the Nile is well known for local and international trade in the Ancient Egyptian era.
What are you most proud of when it comes to The Nile List?
Khadijah loves it when consumers find products and brands that they love. She's also very proud of the filtering feature of the directory. Not only is it simple to search for Black-owned businesses, but you can narrow down your criteria to find specific products in specific categories. For example, if you're a vegan who wants to support Black LGBTQIA businesses, well, you can do that. This feature makes the entire experience user friendly and easy to navigate.
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Khadijah expressed fearing everything. She carried with her a fear of failure and a fear of not picking up traction. Her anxiety erupted during COVID-19, and she wondered would people still spend their money in an uncertain economy. And with everything transitioning to the online marketplace, another concern was will The Nile List compete with other more well-established companies.
"As an entrepreneur, you are literally working through fears all the time. Especially because what I'm doing right now is bootstrapping, and I put my own money into the business. And I have my full-time job; additionally, I'm a lawyer. And so, there's always a fear, like at the end of the day, it's just not going to do what I want it to do and I just sunk thousands and thousands of dollars into something that just doesn't pop...fear has to drive you a little bit to make sure that you're on point and doing what you need to do." There is no guide to entrepreneurship. You're creating things on the fly and making things up as you go along. It's a lot harder when there isn't the guidance there to help steer you ahead when you're in the trenches.
Tell us about a significant setback you had in your business, and how did you recover?
For her launch party, she invited 200 people, and plenty of Black vendors lined up. Black vendors fully sponsored the bar for the venue. She had giveaways ready and had many events, expos, and conferences that The Nile List was supposed to participate in. She wanted to continue to bring The Nile List to the people then introduce the platform. "I wanted to give people an experiential experience, a taste into what the site was going to be like," Khadijah said. For Khadijah, the beginning of COVID-19 was a significant setback because now she had to pivot into a digital space, which wasn't something she had anticipated doing. She was unsure of how to bring exposure to her company. Khadijah had to get creative.
For her pivot, she sourced which events were going digital then started to create partnerships and more collaborations to translate what The Nile List wanted to do digitally. She wasn't sure what people would be interested in now that the world was on lockdown. One of her first events was she recorded a call with her financial advisor to educate her community about tightening up your finances during a crisis and how to optimize your cash-flow. She then supported Black entrepreneurs in different industries to discuss the challenges and share innovative stories to sustain and strengthen their businesses. Khadijah then created quarantine discounts every Monday to help both the consumers and the Black businesses in her directory.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Khadijah's first pitch competition. She had attended a few BGV pitch competitions already, so she had an idea of what to expect. However, she wanted to create something succinct and eye-catching that didn't overload people with too much information. Luckily for her, she had a friend who was a previous BGV judge who gave her feedback on her pitch. She also had a Nile advisor who helped her with her slides. The pitch competition is slightly different because you're speaking to the crowd a bit more than traditional formats that have you speaking directly to investors.
Khadijah has solid tips for those who would like to enter and win pitch competitions. She advises leveraging your platform by getting people involved, not just watching your pitch but watching everyone's pitches because she believes in supporting dope Black women. She says activate your social media and get your cheerleaders involved by asking them to share the pitch competition event. But, most importantly, get to your point and keep it brief. Be formulaic, and hit the things that you need to hit. Lastly, watch other people's pitch decks. She spent time reviewing Airbnb and Uber's pitch decks.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business, in general?
"Finding the focus and the pivot, you just don't want to be going every which way the wind blows you. The focus is really what enables us to, one differentiate and then two to make sure what we're doing is a step above what we're doing," shared Khadijah. As an entrepreneur, you'll find that your business can provide many things, but it's the focus that will help you scale.
For example, businesses that offer multiple services, multiple products, etc., the information may not be as in-depth as other directories provide service providers. Still, the information on those directories is essential, yet the information was limited. Next, you have to be mindful of how you spend your money and resources if it's not yielding tangible results. And lastly, you have to be able to pivot, be pliable, maintain a certain amount of focus, and if you need to pivot or add a new layer to your business, then make sure you crunch the numbers and do a financial forecast.
Support isn't always given to women of color in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Khadijah expressed feeling disappointed by not receiving support from close personal friendships. Despite supporting her friends around weddings and baby showers' and sharing in their excitement, when she asked them to share a social media post, they went radio silent. "Everybody that goes into business has some disappointments, and some shocks where they realized some people, in their close networks that they feel they've supported are not offering that same energy," says Khadijah. However, she's been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers. They believed the mission, and they appreciate the work she's doing.
When asked if there was a time that she wanted to walk away from the business, Khadijah said, "Every day." As an entrepreneur, you get the urge to quit all the time, she says, it's natural to feel that way because to be an entrepreneur is to be in the trenches constantly facing rejection, the time and the energy that it takes to build and expand your business is a lot. Knowing your why will keep you motivated to continue. Khadijah loves the work that she's doing, and she loves making products accessible for Black people.
What's the most exciting part of your business?
The most exciting part of The Nile List is trying new Black products, getting samples, and doing giveaways. But it's also the constant rediscovery of how amazing and innovative Black people are. The Nile List is one huge validation for Black people. There's this misconception that Black people don't "do certain things" or "don't make certain products" but yet she has Black business owners who make paint, toilet tissue, batteries, etc.
What do you think the future holds for Black women entrepreneurs?
The future is bright for Black female founders. The number of Black women entrepreneurs continues to rise and has risen in the last decade. Black women are starting businesses faster than any other demographic. Black women are focused on supporting each other and are resources for one another other.
"I'm really, really excited to see more women getting funding, change those numbers because the stats on Black women getting venture capital is abysmal. I'm really looking forward to seeing more women getting press, that recognition and exposure, more women being asked to sit on these boards, and just like making it pop, I'm really, really excited about women helping other women continue to climb and continue to innovate."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
"You have to be able to manage yourself and others, but most importantly, managing yourself," says Khadijah. As an entrepreneur, you may find yourself all over the place and struggling with time management. As a result, you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Entrepreneurs tend to fall prey to doing everything themselves, filling every role without realizing that they don't have to. Learn how to manage others to do those things through outsourcing.
Managing people is a different skill that needs nurturing. It's a skill many people don't realize is essential. "I have to manage myself and organize myself, so my team can do what they need to do," says Khadijah. Things will not work well if you don't manage yourself first. As a business owner, you have to train them, make sure that they have the systems they need, and learn to correct course. And because you're spending money on these employees, you want to ensure that everyone is doing their job correctly, so you don't lose money.
How do you measure success?
When she first started her business, Khadijah would measure success through tasks and activities, but she quickly realized that she couldn't do that. Because whatever you do might yield different to no results. She measures success by ensuring that she and her team are accomplishing their mission. Their mission is to connect consumers to Black brands, the how might change, but the mission will stay the same. Each time that connection is made, that to her is success.
Three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel happy about your progress?
Three years from now, Khadijah hopes The Nile List continues to reach more people and more brands at a larger scale and that they are a driving force in the market, moving people towards businesses that they wouldn't have found otherwise. The hope is to bring more economic stability to Black businesses.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing; how do you take care of yourself?
Khadijah likes to eat ice cream and froyo. She loves to swim and go to the beach. She also likes to take showers because that's where she gets a lot of her ideas from.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
Khadijah's favorite quote isn't related to business at all. This quote from her grandmother and her mother capture the essence of being a southern Black woman. "If you could, hunh, you can hear." Hunh isn't the most respectful way to respond to someone.
What book or podcast would you recommend?
Podcast: Side Hustle Pro
Book: The Power
What is your favorite app or business hack that you can't live without?
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
Froyo vanilla, muted flavors, with all of the toppings, kiwi, vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, and strawberry cheesecake.
What's next for The Nile List?
Khadijah plans on doing more pitch competitions this year. She hopes to bring a technical member as part of the founding team. She would like to build out a browser extension similar to Honey, which enhances the consumers' shopping experience to integrate the Black businesses into their online shopping experience. This easily connects them to the database skipping the extra step to The Nile List website. She hopes to make everything in house and plans to add an e-commerce portion to the site.