Morgan DeBaun was a student at Washington University in St. Louis when the idea of Blavity was born. She and her friends would sit around a large round table in the cafeteria over lunch and discuss what was on their minds, from politics to pop culture, social issues to social life. They called it “black gravity,” which ultimately became the digital media platform Blavity.
At first, the platform was simply a part-time endeavor for DeBaun, who’d landed a high-paying job at Intuit in Silicon Valley after graduation. Then came the police shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri — a turning point that pressed her to focus on Blavity full time. With several of her Washington University friends as co-founders, Blavity became a full-fledged online forum for black millennials to discuss important issues of the day.
Her approach engages the audience, in large part, by involving them: About 40 percent of the site’s content is user-generated. “It’s not about what I think is important or what a news team sitting in New York thinks is important,” she told Essence magazine last year. “It’s about what the audience thinks is important.”
Although those topics occasionally cover celebrities and entertainment, most of Blavity’s content centers on critical commentary related to culture and community. That formula has engaged readers beyond DeBaun’s imagination, reaching more than 7 million people a month — and helping land the 27-year-old on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and a nomination for TechCrunch Founder of the Year.
Through it all, DeBaun doesn’t necessarily see herself as a start-up star. Innovating for good is her goal, she says. “I wanted to make sure I was spending my time in the world creating something that would make it a better place.”