We interviewed Khadija Robinson and discussed the Nile List, a guide to shopping Black owned brands online. Khadija shared a little about her background and what made her go from spreadsheet to founder of The Nile List.
Growing up in Savannah, GA, Khadija attended Spelman College before getting her Masters at University College of London. From there, she went on to law school at Harvard University and took a position as a corporate lawyer in Washington, DC. She left the corporate world and took a different path with a position with the federal government.
While Khadija was back and forth between law school and corporate law, she had started compiling a spreadsheet of different Black businesses that she wanted to support and shop with online. That’s when other people started asking for her list. Family wanted to see it; friends wanted a copy, and everyone came to her because she had the recommendations they needed. A light bulb went off for her when she realized she wasn’t the only one who was interested in buying from and supporting Black business owners. That moment is when the Nile List became a reality and Khadija turned it from a spreadsheet to a business.
How The Nile List Started
It wasn’t easy to start. Khadija was trained as a lawyer, and lawyers are risk averse. If you are an entrepreneur, then you know, starting a business is anything but risk averse! She admits having to unlearn certain things to stop looking for all the liabilities and red flags and exposure she was in.
No. For her to be an entrepreneur, she was taking liability from the beginning. It was one risk after the other and she was even putting herself into it because the business was being built off her own back, literally! She was financing the business to grow it and doing what she felt would work to see if she could make it.
Being risk averse is something that the Black community is very familiar with. The previous generation was risk averse and wanted us to “get the good job,” and “take the position with a pension and security.” Our parents focused on the safety for survival and what they could do to minimize any risks. However, we are now a generation of entrepreneurs and leaders; we have to make different choices than our parents did.
High risk, high reward. Are you willing to take the leap? Startups can do it, and some make it part of the strategy. If your business isn’t able to take the hit of three or four months in the red like some of the big businesses, you can end up with all your funds walking about the door and you are left with nothing but debts and a list of what you tried but didn’t work.
The Secret Weapon
Khadija moved into crowdfunding to help the Nile List grow. Crowdfunding is raising small amounts of money from a large number of people. It lets the business owner bring in money for growth and other projects without having to use personal finances. Most crowdfunding is done to give those participants equity in the business. Khadija had a different plan! She gave incentives.
And the biggest difference that helped Khadija reach her goal and build a loyal customer base? HER FOLLOW UP!
Khadija says, “I was relentless with it. I followed up and followed up and followed up over a 30 day period.”
Between calls and texts and the people wanting to be a part of this platform, she created a Founder’s Club and kept them engaged. Ultimately, the incentives were worth it, but the people WANTED to be a part of it, so it made things easier for Khadija.
People want to buy Black. They want to be a part of something bigger than them. And if people weren’t able to donate financially, Khadija gave them different ways to contribute. Contributions can come from social shares and telling others who can help put the financial support behind it. If you find a way for everyone to support you, you can grow your community and also build a base that is ready to buy from you when the time comes.
The biggest lesson Khadija wants any entrepreneur to know is that the hard days are hard and the good ones are there too. One day you question everything about what you are doing, and the next day you are making sales and watching your vision become reality. Make it easy on yourself and set up some standardizations and processes.
Implementing processes that other people can follow so you as the business owner aren’t caught up having to do it all is very important. It creates a bottleneck that has to flow through you, and you can’t truly be the visionary of your business if you are having to handle everything from minor tasks to major investments. Learn to scale while you are small by writing down each and every step you take to do something. This will enable others to come and plug in more easily to get you to the goals you want to achieve.
Imagine thinking you have a financing problem and you can’t get money from investors or a bank to solve your problem. If you have a process written out, you’d know that financing isn’t the problem, advertising is! You could be advertising in the wrong places (i.e. where your client is not!), and all that money is being gobbled up by Facebook and printing companies for local flyers when you should have been talking about it on Instagram and targeting your ideal clients. Processes are helpful and they will help you reach your goals.
Analytics & Growth
The Nile List has started to offer curated boxes - a mini taste of Black owned greatness tastemaker boxes. This wouldn’t be possible without their customer base. They listened to their customers and tested different ways they were using the website. If a Friday promotion yielded better results than a Wednesday discount, they had the data to show where they should put their focus.
And then there were customers who didn’t care what they were buying as long as they bought it from a Black owned business. This is where the curated boxes developed. Customers aren’t sure what they want to buy, but they know WHO they want to buy it from. They are willing to try things and discover new products and with the boxes, they get a great sample to learn about the product and see if they want to commit for future purchases.
The boxes are based on a quarterly subscription, and you can sign up directly on the site. Each box is curated around a theme and shipped with 5 - 8 products to sample. It also makes sense to share the love and gift these boxes to someone who might be interested in trying new Black owned products.
The Future of The Nile List
Even with the socio-economic pressures of today, Khadija is cautiously optimistic about what the future holds for her and The Nile List. The one thing she is most looking forward to is failure. YES...FAILURE! Seems odd and out of place, but as Khadija said,
“I am looking forward to that because I will know if we are continuing to iterate then there will be failure. If we continue to test things out and learn, there will be failure and so I am looking forward to that process.”
Make sense? You can’t grow without going through some growing pains. And the more you test and modify and make improvements, the better you can learn and improve for the next time around. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, you have to go through something in order to come out stronger on the other side.
The Nile List has recently gone through a growing pain that we are excited to share with you. It was recently acquired by Shop Circulate in order to help The Nile List advance and scale to even greater heights in the Black community. Shop Circulate is a curated marketplace to discover and shop the world’s best Black-owned brands.
If The Nile List is in your future, head over The Nile List website to sign up. The Nile List lists businesses that are Black owned e-commerce brands. As long as you sell products online and are wholly or partially Black owned, you can list with The Nile List for free. Create your account today!
The Beyond Normal Podcast is sponsored by Velourit. Velourit is the global supply chain management system built for the small minority business owners. It is an example of how to create a company that drives value with a purpose.
Brooke Sinclair is the CEO of Velourit. She says, “2020 forever changed the way investors interact, engage with, and learn about startups while working from home, remotely, and over Zoom. We’re moving away from the physical Silicon Valley to a more conceptualized version where we reference “Silicon Valley” to mean the ecosystem of technology.” You can find out more about Velourit here.