Mandy Bowman is the Founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street. After studying Entrepreneurship and Global Business Management at Babson College, she set out to empower the Black community through economics and ownership. Since 2014 Mandy has been at the forefront of the #BuyBlack movement, making it easier for others to find and support Black-owned businesses through her digital platform and global Black business directory, Official Black Wall Street. In 2017 Mandy was invited to TEDx Dover, the first TED event held at an HBCU, to give a TED talk on ownership and long term wealth in the Black community. She was also chosen to present her business pitch to a panel of celebrity entrepreneur judges on BET’s series ‘Queen Boss.’ The highly anticipated app version of Official Black Wall Street launched in October of 2017 and made headlines as the first app to alert users when they are near a Black business. During her professional career, Mandy has worked at Atlantic Records, Complex Magazine, and Essence Magazine in social media and digital marketing. When she isn’t working to fuel Black businesses, she is volunteering as a mentor to inner-city students and creating social strategies for small businesses.
Who is Mandy Bowman and what was your motivation for starting your brand?
Mandy Bowman is an ambitious entrepreneur from Brooklyn, New York and I started Official Black Wall Street after reading a book about black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After reading that, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It reminded me a lot of my neighborhood. I am from Bed Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant), and back then, it was a very popping neighborhood with many black owned businesses. Now, it has changed so drastically. So one, it gave me nostalgia and I thought it was amazing reading about all of these black entrepreneurs that had pharmacies and theaters, and completely self-sufficient. I thought that was amazing. I did not even see that with the neighborhood that I was in, but it got very close and it went very far from that. After reading about that, I got out a spreadsheet and I was like I’m just going to go out and support as many black owned businesses in Brooklyn as I can, or in New York City as I can. I found so many, even some that was down the block from me. So, I decided to create an Instagram page and just start sharing it. It just continued growing from there with an Instagram page, then became a website and grew into the app.
What were some of the main challenges you faced with your brand?
There are two main ones. One is funding. I had no idea that it costs so much money to create an app. I wish I had those skills to do it myself. For me, I started a Kickstarter crowdfunding to raise money for the app. Even then, there were so many things that popped up and I had to take money out of my own savings to finish it. Second, finding a reliable team is so hard. It is a lot of trial and error. Going through people and seeing what works and who is actually motivated and invested in the business takes time. However, one of my biggest realizations is that no one is going to be as invested as you are as the owner and the CEO of the company.
How did you discover your purpose?
I used to work in the music industry and that was my dream since high school. Out of all the jobs that I had, none of them really fulfilled me, but my favorite part of the day was just running home and working on this. I would literally be up at three o’clock in the morning, pinching myself to stay awake and fighting sleep, just to work on it. I think that is how I knew that this was something I was supposed to be working on. It felt like it gave me purpose. I have always been into service and philanthropy. It felt like this was the one thing I was passionate about.
What motivates you to keep going?
I would say it was the positive reception from people. I did not think that we would have this much of a following. But for me, it was heartwarming, when I get messages from entrepreneurs who are like, “Oh, my gosh, I listed my business on your on your website or app, and I got more sales in a week”, or, “You posted about us, and we’ve had this influx of sales”. I just love my community so much that I wanted to do something that helps. I knew that as an entrepreneur, there are going to be days where you just do not want to do it anymore and there are going to be days when you are like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m doing it, things are working out”. I knew that that would come. To me, it mattered a lot more because it was my community. Just being in New York and seeing gentrification happening and reading all the facts about how black entrepreneurs don’t get the same funding that other entrepreneurs get, and chances of getting business loans are much lower, lit a fire within me. So even on days when nothing is going right and I wanted to give up, that gave me a little bit of hope.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments and which one you are most proud of.
I gave a TEDx talk and it was the first time I had ever spoken out ever. I was terrified, but I got through it, so I am very proud of that. I would say another big accomplishment I made was that I completed my Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and I did it while I was working a full time job and it was just me working on Official Black Wall Street. That was the most intense 30 days of my entire life and of course when I got to the end, I was like “Thank you God”. I’m glad I was able to get through it. During that same time, I was featured in this show called Queen Boss on Centric (currently BET HER). It was the first time I pitched my business. I did not go past the first round, but I still see it as an accomplishment because I was just able to do it despite being so shy and nervous. After we launched the app, it was featured in so many different publications such as Black Enterprise and Essence. I did not have a PR person. I did the legwork in trying to get the app featured in different places myself. When you are an entrepreneur, you really have to wear all the hats. You have to be the publicist, the marketing person, the finance person, and all these other things. Therefore, for me, I consider it an accomplishment because it was something I had never done before. Nevertheless, I made it work.
How were you able to manage being the marketing person and PR person? What resources if any did you use to become so successful in doing those things?
I think a lot of it was just my background before I became a full-time entrepreneur; I have to believe that everything happens for a reason and God strategically puts you in different places. My background has always been digital marketing and marketing. When I graduated, I was working at Atlantic Records doing digital marketing. I went from there to Complex Magazine as a social media strategist, and then from there to Essence magazine as a social media manager. On all of those positions, I was able to learn about social media and different campaigns that you can do. Working at Essence was valuable because I was able to see what editors look for, what made headlines, and different headlines that were eye-catching. Being on that side and seeing what the editors responded to and what they took interest in was helpful for me because when it came to trying to get people to write about Official Black Wall Street and the app, I was able to use my experience to determine what would make them read my email. One other thing that was helpful was going to panel events. I remember I went to a panel event that had different black women who were editors at Buzz Feed and Black Enterprise and they were talking about how to pitch your business. One of them said that they get flooded with emails and you have to create a subject line that will make them click. For me, it was taking my experience and finding something I can apply as much as possible. I really think that the subject line helped me a lot. The subject line I sent was something like “I quit my job at Essence to create an app for black-owned businesses”. There was some who did not respond, but I had gotten advice from a Senior Editor who I literally just hit up on Twitter. We had no connections and I did not think he was going to answer, but I decided to try anyway. He said, “We get thousands and thousands of emails per week, so if that doesn’t work, try a different angle”. He said it does not hurt to contact us multiple times with different angles.
What advice would you give to women in your industry or women who are trying to get into that industry?
There are a few things. I am not always as organized as I should be, but lists really helped me so much. In the beginning, what was beneficial was just sitting down and being like, okay, this is my end goal. So let me walk back in with all the tiny steps and make a “to do” list. I would map out everything I had to do day by day. Taking baby steps really does help. In addition, finding a great mentor or a great adviser when you are starting out is helpful. I now have an adviser, and it is helpful to have someone who has already been down that road to counsel you and to give you advice about things because there are so many mistakes that I made in the beginning that I wish I had known. I wish I had the foresight to know what to do in those situations. But I would say, take it one step at a time, create your list, and also get an adviser. Do not try to do everything yourself.