The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir (WN): Hey Khadijah! I am so excited to talk to you about Nile. But before we dive into that. Tell our readers more about yourself.
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: My name is Khadijah Robinson. I’m a lawyer based in Washington, D.C. Last year, I started working on Nile, which is a digital platform connecting consumers to Black-owned brands online.
It started as a spreadsheet that I thought I would just keep for myself and friends so that we could easily find Black brands to shop online. Then it grew into a full-blown mission to change the way shoppers connected with Black-owned businesses online.
The site works like a Black version of Yelp for online businesses. People can search and browse, looking for products they’re interested in buying. We know somebody Black who makes that!
Besides Nile, I brunch, I happy hour, and I write a book blog, although I do that a lot less these days now that I’m an entrepreneur.
WN: Khadijah, the Nile sounds like an awesome platform for us to find products produced by other Black business owners. What inspired you to create Nile?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: I love all things Black. I grew up living the Blackest possible life. I’m talking, BLACKITY Black.
When I got to elementary school, I had no idea what the other kids were singing in the morning. I later found out that it was supposedly the national anthem, which I had never heard in my life. I thought “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was the National anthem. My parents had my sister and I walking around in ankara print kids’ clothing in the 90s, doing Rites of Passage ceremonies, celebrating Kwanzaa, and playing games like African-American bingo and mancala in our spare time. It was the utmost of Blackness. Plus, I grew up in two majority-Black cities – Savannah, GA, and Montgomery, AL.
I have always been pretty intentional about my Blackness and supporting all things Black, but post-Ferguson, my drive to really focus on how to invest in my community holistically increased. Nile was born from my frustration with how hard it is to shop online with Black businesses. Yes, I want to buy Black. But I also want convenience. I like two-day shipping! I want to have choices and I want to compare different products. I want to know from whom I’m buying. I want to use a website that works well and isn’t janky. I want more than just shea butter and Black art.
It was so hard to find Black-owned brands when shopping online. There was no cohesive and easy-to-use directory. It’s not like sites have a banner on the homepage that says “HI WE ARE BLACK OWNED THANKS.” So, I started doing some digging and doing my own research, and the more I talked to people about this “project,” the more that people were like “yes! We need that!” I wanted there to be a one-stop shop for Black-owned shopping online. So I got to work to create it.
WN: How do you believe Nile will impact people?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: Nile is an aggregator and connector. Our mission is two-fold: we want to connect consumers to high-quality, Black-owned brands and content online. For our businesses, we seek to create a community of connected Black-owned businesses that helps with exposure, scaling and resource-pooling. Our target audience is all Black folks!
But really, I’m a millennial, so I’m catering a lot to millennials. I want to make sure that our platform is modern, easy-to-use, and full of the types of businesses that I’d love to support myself, if only I knew about them. I also want to really make a place for small Black-owned businesses on our platform, particularly the ones that only have an online presence. It can be hard to rise above retail noise online and gain traction, so I want to open up a space for people who are looking for these exact types of businesses so they can support them.
WN: That’s a great mission. So, previously you mentioned you are an attorney. How are you balancing Nile and your legal career?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: I wish I were a full-time entrepreneur! But I’m still a lawyer. I graduated from Harvard Law School and moved to DC in 2015. I’ve been practicing with a firm in DC since then outside of the year that I spent clerking with a federal court judge.
Life can get crazy trying to balance the lawyer life with the founder of Nile life. I’m not gonna lie, it is HARD! But it is worth it. I enjoy being a lawyer, but I love Nile. I love Black people, I love everything about us. I get so much joy and fulfillment every time someone tells me that they found out about a Black-owned brand from some of our Nile content.
It is truly a passion, one that keeps me up until 2 AM. What I will say for anyone trying to pop off a side hustle is lean hard on your schedule. Schedule time for everything, even responding to emails. If you get regimented, it helps.
Also, work on the infrastructure and machinery of the business first so that some things can just flow once you actually get started. For example, make a social media guide with your brand assets and guidelines on what to post. That way, when you are ready to get help with social media, you can refer them to the guide and have less training and correcting to do.
WN: Khadijah, that’s great advice to our part-time entrepreneurs out there. As you balance your work and business responsibilities, what has been the most challenging aspect of it all?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: The most challenging aspect is focusing on anything besides Nile. I think about the business in the shower, in bed, on the way to work, at work, when cooking breakfast, literally all the time. I want to work on the Nile all the time. I want this site to change everything about Black-owned shopping. So basically, trying not to be obsessive-compulsive about my business and do other things with my life is the biggest challenge.
WN: How did you make the decision to go into business for yourself? What steps did you take to be prepared to invest in your business?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: I had an epiphany moment as I was adding businesses to my spreadsheet that this could be a real business. And I leaned in hard. I made the decision in my head, so everything else was history.
I basically built it as I went. I’m a lawyer, so I wrote an operating agreement and got an EIN and business license. And I have tried to stay on top of business admin like that. I opened a business checking account with Industrial Bank, which is one of our local Black-owned banks. I also got a PayPal account for the business, set up an Eventbrite, and got on Upwork and found contractors and freelancers to help with different components of the business. My virtual assistant is especially helpful. Right now, I am working on trademarking and contract writing for our business partnerships.
WN: Why do you think there aren’t more black-owned websites connecting more black businesses?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: Do you want my honest answer? Because it’s hard. It takes time. It takes money. It takes discipline. It takes sacrifice. I can’t go to every happy hour and brunch anymore. I’ve put well over $25,000 into this business, and it hasn’t even fully launched yet. I am working off of five hours of sleep maximum on any given night.
Most people decide, before they get to this point, that they would rather do it cheaper or easier or slower or not at all. And then it doesn’t exist or it doesn’t catch on because the finished product isn’t great. Not to mention, a lot of people just don’t have the business sense, the attention to detail with administrative issues, and the vision to push things along. Most people would think once they got the directory portion of the site up that they have reached the end goal. I view the directory as just the beginning. From here, I will be pushing to figure out more and better ways to connect Black folks and Black businesses.
WN: If you could flip a switch and get everyone to do one thing related to their consumerism, what would that be?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: BUY FRIGGIN BLACK. Not now, but right now. I want everyone to support businesses that have long been under-resourced and disadvantaged.
WN: Are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Khadijah Robinson from Nile: Our site launched March 1, and right now, it is full steam ahead with making the site pop with as many dope Black-owned businesses as we can get in there. So basically, head over to the Nile right now and sign up, subscribe, browse, share, and do all the dope Black things with us!
Post launch, we’re exploring ways to do even more for our business owners through partnerships and enhanced technical options. We’re thinking about leveraging our database of knowledge to build out a browser extension. But we’ll see what the market tells us about what they want first.
WN: Khadijah, I am so excited to see all the things that Nile has to offer and will definitely check out the listed Black businesses.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.