How I built a successful subscription website from scratch: Tobi Oredein, CEO of Black Ballad

  • - The FIVE most fascinating quotes from our interview - *

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Listen to our full, 32-minute conversation here 🙏

Starting a new media brand is very hard.

But it is even more challenging if you are a working-class woman of colour.

So, the emerging success of Black Ballad, the biggest subscription platform for women of colour in the UK is super interesting to me.

I was lucky enough to meet its founder and CEO Tobi Oredein virtually during lockdown when she was busy supporting emerging entrepreneurs as a judge in the DBACE awards 2021.

And I was immediately drawn to her intellect, drive and infectious personality.

So when I started the Big Swing Podcast, I knew Tobi had to be one of my first guests.

And I really enjoyed our conversation which you can also hear on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 🎧

Here are five great quotes from Tobi that I wanted to share with you:

  1. Tobi calls herself a reluctant entrepreneur... She definitely wanted to be a journalist rather than a CEO, and had to dig deep to believe she could prosper in a different role:  
If you're going to be an entrepreneur, you really have to have self belief and an ego in a healthy way. You have to really believe in yourself... you have to be able to bet on yourself when no one will bet on you.

2. Because Tobi was making no progress trying to get a staff job as a journalist, she felt free to take a different path.  It was the same for me when I couldn't get a staff job at a newspaper in 2000 - that's when I decided to work for myself:

I had nothing to lose. I think sometimes the best decisions in life are born when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

3. As the mainstream media had little interest in reaching the 1.5% of the UK population that make up Black British women, Tobi saw a great opportunity of an audience that wasn't being looked after:

So there was nothing in Britain that was really highlighting what was going on in that community. And, you know, at that time, things were going on in the black community and mainstream media just didn't give a fuck. They were just like, whatever, I don't care.

4. And for Tobi's generation, the internet offered a way of reaching people that didn't discriminate:

That's the beautiful thing about this digital age. It lowers the barriers and it evens the playing field. And it's helped shift journalism in a perspective that sees more points of view be represented. And I'm very grateful for that.

5. But once born, Black Ballad didn't have the income to stay afloat. So Tobi was faced with either shutting the business down or switching from a free-to-read site into a community paid subscription model:

If we didn't do it, we couldn't carry on because we had no income. I didn't want to lose this audience. And I knew how much it meant to black women to be seen and to be heard and to have their identities represented. And I think I was really scared of failure because I had failed to get a job in traditional media. I didn't want to fail again.  I didn't want to fail at my dreams.

I learnt a lot about positivity, acceptance and adaptation from my conversation with Tobi.

And I also realised just how valuable her business model is.

Building a vibrant community that brands want to reach but can't, is a brilliant move.

It means if those brands want to reach Tobi's audiences, they have to do a deal with her.

And Tobi ensures the brands understand the value of her community.

I expect these types of focused subscription communities to prosper in the coming years.

So I'd encourage you to subscribe to Black Ballad and start learning from Tobi's hard-won knowledge!

Sam Barcroft

Sam Barcroft

Creative entrepreneur and strategist with over 30 years experience of building media businesses