On February 1, 2012, I started the website blackgirlnerds.com. It was created immediately after a Google search where I typed the moniker “Black Girl Nerds”, and nothing came up in one of the largest search engines in the world. You can find nearly everything under the sun, but during that year, if you typed “Black Girl Nerds” in Google images — white women wearing glasses with black frames would appear. This subcultural community of women was essentially a myth, a story of folklore only heard in old wives tales. We’re unicorns!
Within 24-48 hours after the website was published on the web, my good friend and ride-or-die BGN supporter Amaya Radjani contacted me asking if she could write content on the site. At the time, BGN was a blog about me and my personal musings — nothing more. Amaya shared her personal experience about growing up nerdy. For Amaya, this was a personal sanctuary where she could finally express her eccentricities and identity as a Black girl nerd. She’s contributed a myriad of topics from her fanfiction to her experiences as an expat and has always been one of the strongest cheerleaders of this online community and brand.
As BGN started to grow and people like Shonda Rhimes was recognizing my Twitter presence on social media, I realized that this website and online community is resonating with a lot of people. I launched a podcast and started to do a bit more outreach outside of the four corners of the internet by co-partnering with Keith Chow and Arturo Garcia with the Black Girl Nerds of Color Meetup. It was a great opportunity for geeks from the Nerds of Color community and the BGN community to meet, have drinks, and just socialize and possibly build some solid relationships. Our first event had Black Panther director Ryan Coogler as an attendee, so we were off to a great start!
I’ve always wanted to attend San Diego Comic-Con, and when my friend Regine Sawyer offered me a free pass to attend, I took the little bit of money I had left in my savings to pay for airfare and hotel, and attended my first major convention in 2015 (3 years into BGN being a blog) which was one of the best experiences I had that year. BGN was evolving, and all I knew was one thing — my goal was to continue to build and grow this community so the world can see that we exist. And quite frankly, to indelibly print images of Black Girl Nerds on the web so that we do, in fact, appear in Google search engines.
I’m also amazed for what this community has given back to me both professionally and personally. In Jan of 2014, my home caught fire and BGN contributors, Chaka Cumberbatch and Latanya Barrett, put together a Go Fund Me, to help raise funds for recovery of damages to my home. My mother sadly had reduced the insurance coverage the week before and we were not fully insured for all of the damage, so I will be forever grateful for the generosity the fans and followers of BGN provided me during my time of need.
That’s when it dawned on me that BGN is about community. It is a supportive community of fans and fellow Black girl nerds that are proud and happy to see a platform where their stories and images are reflected. That’s what BGN is all about. As time passed and more opportunities started coming in, I noticed BGN was growing into what most people on the outside looking in would perceive as a business. The demands on me as an editor started to build and the pressure was mounting to be attentive to a large team of over 40 contributors. I was advised to put together a senior leadership team; to help relieve some of that pressure and delegate tasks to specific editors. This team formed in August of 2017. This is now 5 years in for BGN. Should I have done this sooner? Sure. However, I must be candid as to why I was reluctant.
Imagine having a baby and you have fed, burped, pampered and changed that baby’s diapers for years. Then as that baby started to grow into a toddler, you gave it a voice and helped it learn how to speak and to walk. You spent incalculable days and nights taking care of that child. You sacrificed everything — time with your family, relationships with friends and compromised your physical and mental health to ensure this child is cared for at all times. Then suddenly you have to take time away from the child, and leave it someone else’s care — granted these are people you trust — but you are still walking away from the child.
This is how I felt when the team formed. However, that has now changed significantly and I have made a concerted effort to ensure the leadership team takes on more projects and duties for Black Girl Nerds. Now I don’t know what I would do without the senior leadership team. They are the greatest! This gets me to the next topic about this open letter which is private — but should be a public thing worth mentioning.
As I stated before, BGN started off as a blog and for many years I looked at it more as a hobby and most importantly — a hub for building an online community. The words “brand” were never coined by me, but instead by others who saw its growth and read its moniker everywhere. And I can see how BGN can be perceived as a company — the website is professionally developed, the social media networks are well-built and have impressive numbers, I have made on-camera appearances and public appearances all over promoting the work of Black Girl Nerds, so it’s easy to think, “well sure BGN is Jamie’s full-time job!”.
Sadly it is not.
I’ve worked full time since starting this website. I started working for a telecommunications company and then worked at a law firm. I would spend my days sneaking in work for BGN when I was allowed (during the day) and consume countless hours toiling away at BGN at night. This was basically my life every day up until 4 weeks ago. I have been on podcasts and done several interviews where I would have the question asked — “have you ever thought of making BGN into a business?” or “where do you see BGN 5 years from now?”. And I will be 100% honest with you and say, “I have no idea.”
I never attended business school and I don’t know the first thing about running one. My educational background is in Marketing; which is why and how BGN has been successful with respect to social media and promotion of the brand. I have a team now that help deliver socials which have elevated our Twitter presence even more, but in the beginning — it was all me handling socials for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more for BGN. I did what I knew how to do best and spent all of my energy and resources into that. In hindsight, I should have recruited a core team of people with specific skills to run areas of BGN. For example, an operations person, a salesperson, an online marketing person, a legal person, etc. In other words, all of the key components of running a business. The team would be small, but it would be streamlined.
As BGN grows, so am I, and I am learning a lot as a founder and editor. I’m learning that not everyone’s ideas will align with mine and that’s okay. I want to learn more and I want to be challenged when my ideas are outdated and archaic. Or simply if my ideas just don’t work! BGN as of today, is a volunteer-run organization. Within the last couple of years — with the help of our Patreon — I have been able to pay our copyeditors (some of the hardest working team members of BGN) and some of our writers. As you can imagine —receiving $1800-1900 per month to pay 40 contributors (which include editors, regular contributors and guest bloggers) is not a lot of money. This doesn’t include the operational costs it takes to run this website. This includes web hosting fees, podcast hosting fees, Mailchimp subscription service, USPTO trademark filing costs, attorney fees, traveling and lodging expenses for journalists to cover comic cons and film festivals. I don’t pay myself through Patreon and instead, earn bits from Teepublic sales and digital ad buys which is not enough to live on, but helps me here and there.
The financial risk of no longer having a steady day job was a huge one, but it was a necessary step for me to focus on what is most important to me right now, and that is building BGN into a business. If you’ve noticed, you likely have seen my bylines in several large publications, that’s because I’m freelancing as a writer to pay my own bills.
I don’t know how long it will take us to get there, every startup has their story, but I do know I have tools like a pitch deck and working to get BGN to the next level. And although I do have a team of incredibly talented and super skilled journalists, writers and editors — I do not have anyone on my team that knows how to start and run a company. This part I am doing completely on my own — while working daily to represent the brand.
I’ve been able to do what I am doing for so long and earn nothing but peanuts (the salted kind) in return is because, at the end of the day, I love what I do. I didn’t create BGN to earn money and I enjoy being an ambassador for all things in Black girl geekdom. BGN is who I am. But now, I need to shift from BGN being Jamie Broadnax’s blog to BGN being an entertainment media outlet. However, the core of this space is about a community of women who live within the intersection of black feminist identity and nerd culture. I have a book coming out next year from Penguin Random House called Black Girl Nerds, and that book is not about the business of this online community, but the people are members of it. A large part of it is autobiographical — because BGN is truly my life experience.
I say all of this to say that I know I’m not the best leader, and I know I don’t have the business savvy or know-how to run a company, but trust me when I say I want to do better and I am definitely trying. I want to see BGN become a fully monetized LLC with a salaried staff. I want to see BGN have a plethora of sponsors partnering with our audience (an incredibly underserved demographic with large buying power) to work with us on various campaigns. I want to articulate myself better when I’m chatting with an investor OR VIP about who BGN is, what BGN can provide for them, and where they can see the value in funding us.
I know Black Girl Nerds, LLC is definitely capable of getting there, and this open letter is to let everyone know first of all where my set of beliefs are in all of this and also to know that I’ve taken steps in my professional life to work to get there. Will all of this happen overnight? Of course not. But I have faith enough in this community to know that as it continues to grow and build we will definitely get to where we need to be. I have faith in my work in this area and I have faith in the audience of supporters who have been here since the beginning and those of you who are just learning about our platform now.
I’m grateful to be in a place where I have an opportunity to learn and be better at what I am doing. And I’m doing this one day at a time.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association