The App That Might Change The Way You Shop And Support Black Business
Here’s some information that might help with your last-minute holiday shopping. Official Black Wall Street (OBWS), the app founded in 2015 to help circulate more dollars in the Black community, actually alerts users when they’re near a Black-owned business.
The app was dreamed up by Brooklyn, NY-based Mandy Bowman who, one day three years ago, up and quit her full-time job to make OBWS happen. Inspired by how many Black businesses in Brooklyn were closing due to gentrification, Bowman wanted to create an app that would help consumers support Black-owned businesses and that she did. Bowman raised $33,000 for the app through a Kickstarter campaign and the app recently reached a milestone of listing more than 2,000 Black-owned businesses.
We have all heard the stats about the tremendous amount of Black buying power and how little of that money is spent with Black-owned businesses. Now, OBWS lets African-American consumers put their support behind businesses owned by Black entrepreneurs.
Bowman told MadameNoire how she came up with OBWS and what it was like to leave the security of her full-time job.
MadameNoire (MN): When was the moment you decided to quit your job?
Mandy Bowman (MB): I had gone back and forth about the idea of making the leap for months. I always knew that I wanted to make Official Black Wall Street my full-time job in the near future, but it wasn’t until I came to the realization that I was falling behind that I knew it was time to go. I was putting OBWS on the back burner and things were falling by the wayside. I would come home after an extremely long work day and I’d be so drained that I’d barely have any time or energy to devote to OBWS. The platform was growing and I wasn’t doing a great job at keeping up. It came down to staying and never seeing Official Black Wall Street to its full potential or taking a leap of faith to pursue and grow my passion.
MN: What preparations did you take before quitting your job?
MB: I knew I would need a safety net before quitting, especially since I live in NYC and rent usually costs at least one limb, so I moved back home and made sure I had at least a year’s worth of savings for rainy days.
MN: What was your biggest fear of leaving your job?
MB: My biggest fear was definitely the financial aspect. We all know how unpredictable businesses can be so I often worried about whether the app would be well-received and if it would sustain me months or even years after putting in my two-weeks notice. Those guaranteed, bi-weekly corporate checks are beyond comforting.
MN: How did you come up with the idea for the app?
MB: I originally launched the web-based platform for Official Black Wall Street to help us discover Black-owned businesses, but I wanted to make it as easy as possible for us to circulate the Black dollar. That coupled with the fact that technology is at the forefront when it comes to business trends made it clear that building an app would have to be my next step.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
MB: I launched a Kickstarter last year and exceeded our $30K goal raising $33.5K for app development. Because things turned out to be a lot more expensive and custom than originally expected, I also had to use my savings to see it to fruition.
MN: Why the name Official Black Wall Street?
MB: My inspiration for starting Official Black Wall Street was the historic Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I first read about that neighborhood I was blown away by how self-sufficient and prosperous this community was. I was even more blown away that it took me 23 years and my own curiosity to actually learn about such an important part of our history. I really wanted to rebuild that sense of community and economic development today and bring awareness to the fact that we’ve done it before, so we can do it again. I thought Official Black Wall Street was the perfect name for what we stand for.
MN: How did you get involved in the tech scene?
MB: It kind of happened organically. I never set out to be a tech entrepreneur but the more research I did, the more I realized how much the tech industry was lacking Black entrepreneurs, and how just about everything is tech-based nowadays. I knew I’d have to keep up with the times so I did a ton of research on different tech programs, classes and workshops to stay abreast of new trends.
MN: Why do you think such an app is necessary?
MB: My biggest goal with the OBWS app was to make it so easy to discover Black-owned businesses that people could no longer use “I don’t know of any” as an excuse. Having a platform that was easy to use and where we did all of the work for users and Black business owners in terms of helping them discover businesses or promote their own business was extremely important. We also wanted to make sure that we were keeping up with current trends. Now, more than ever, people are using their phones to find local business so we knew we’d have to meet users and business owners where they were: on their phones.
MN: How do you differ from other apps/resources that pinpoint Black-owned businesses?
MB: The app is regularly updated with new Black-owned businesses multiple times a week, and we have a lot more features geared towards business owners and consumers. For example, Black entrepreneurs are able to message consumers who favorite their business straight from the app, gain more exposure through search placement advertising and similar business listings, view analytics and other cool features to help them stand out and gain a closer relationship with potential and current customers. Users can choose to be alerted whenever they’re near a Black-owned business. They can look at a map and see all of the businesses that are within 20 miles of them at that moment, leave reviews, bookmark their favorite businesses, be notified when those businesses have new special offers, and more. Aside from that, we spent a lot of time making sure that our user experience was as pleasant as possible and that our branding and design reflected this.
MN: What are your business goals for 2018?
MB: There are so many other cool features we’re planning to release in upcoming app updates. All with the goal of circulating the Black dollar in our communities, full circle! Our next step would definitely be implementing those and seeking advisors and Black investors.
MN: What has been your biggest reward in making the decision to become an entrepreneur?
MB: My biggest reward was actually being able to do something I believe in. Something that I’m passionate about. There are so many ups and downs when it comes to entrepreneurship but it’s a blessing to be able to wake up and do something you love instead of spending your entire day thinking “I could be working on this or growing that right now.” It’s scary but extremely fulfilling.