Rameish Budhoo knows the challenges facing Black-business owners all too well. That’s why he founded Black Nation app in 2018, years before the media starting paying attention.
In late July, a study by the New York Fed estimated that 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April, compared to roughly 32% of Latino businesses, 26% of Asian businesses, and 17% of white businesses. The report reflected similar findings by a University of California, Santa Cruz study released in June.
The study’s authors attribute this disparity to a lack of financial savings, less access to capital, and funding gaps that existed prior to the pandemic. “Covid-19 has exacerbated these issues and businesses in the hardest hit communities have witnessed huge disparities in access to federal relief funds and a higher rate of business closures,” the authors wrote in their report.
The issues faced by Black-business owners such as those cited by the New York Fed are among many entrepreneur Rameish Budhoo has been attempting to solve—some explicitly, some as a byproduct—since he first had the idea for Black Nation app in 2018.
Born in Jamaica, Budhoo immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old. The church played an outsized role in the young man’s life, acting as both community and educational institution. Budhoo’s ambitions and curiosities were apparent from a young age and the lead pastor, Zachery Tims, saw something he didn’t see in himself. “He took me under his wings. He taught me the ropes of business, how to structure things, how to handle yourself, how to conduct a meeting. Everything from the small things to the big things. He would include me in meetings for no reason, just so I can sit there and watch.”
The pastor, always encouraging of his interests in sound engineering and video production, offered him the opportunity to step in on the marketing side, giving Budhoo his first taste of decision-making. “I shared my ideas and advice, and a lot of times they were actually listened to. That helped build the confidence I would need moving forward down the entrepreneur and business path.”
When Budhoo joined New Destiny Christian Center it had between 1,000 and 2,000 members. By the time he ventured off on his own it had grown to well over 10,000. Those early experiences foreshadowed his future endeavours, which would come to include over 100,000 followers on Black Nation’s Instagram page.
The Deep End
It was 2008, the year Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, when Budhoo decided to forego school and jump head-first into the world of entrepreneurship. A natural inclination for social, marketing, and tech coincided with his passion for all things digital creative and soon Budhoo’s first businesses were live.
There was WinCor, a full-service app agency, and Pastors Radio, an app that enabled pastors to have their own radio station, reaching devoted listeners across the country. Like all successful entrepreneurs, Budhoo took success with a grain of salt and brushed off defeat as if it were dust. “What worked, we kept doing. What didn’t, we just moved on.”
A decade of trial and error ultimately brought him to the idea that would spark the fuse of Black Nation. Recalling that moment now, Budhoo remembers it as a combination of what was going on in his personal life and what was going on in the wider culture. In his personal life, Budhoo was disappointed he couldn’t easily locate local Black-owned businesses. In the wider culture, he was seeing global brands like Gucci and H&M make grave missteps brought on by a lack of diversity in their own ranks.
Like he had done so many times before, Budhoo trusted his instincts and got to work. “Instead of hoping someone does it and instead of hoping they do it right, let me do it right.” In the beginning, that meant a comprehensive directory. But Budhoo knew early on the app could deliver even more value. “I always knew it was going to evolve. It was just a matter of when or how.”
Power in Community
That evolution started to reveal itself as a community of business owners and those seeking to support business owners, all under one digital roof. New products were offered over time to bolster that sense of community, including simple features like giving family, friends, and fans the ability to follow individual users all the way up to a giveaway feature, bringing a tried-and-true growth strategy to fledgling businesses.
Just a few weeks ago, businesses registered on Black Nation were given the ability to sell products directly in the app. Budhoo and his team, which to this day consists of himself and “two and a half others,” quickly followed up with the Black Nation store, a feature designed to cut down on the amount of clicks between seeing a product for the first time and buying it, all while positioning the app as a purveyor of quality product.
All of these features—and the many to come—speak to the core of Black Nation’s mission: to bring the expertise and support that exists in the community to a wider audience. “I wanted to help our community have the education we need, the knowledge we need. If you don’t understand this, we’re here to help. We want to create as much of an equal playing field as possible; educate as much of our people as we can.”
“We want to create as much of an equal playing field as possible; educate as much of our people as we can.”
As a Black-business owner himself, Budhoo knew the challenges faced by his peers as well as anyone. “Walking into doors and literally being told ‘no’ before I can say what I need. That’s happened. That’s the norm. I’ve witnessed it my whole life. I can attest to it 100%.” In the Black Nation universe, he often hears a different kind of response. “We’re getting emails saying, ‘I can’t believe we just sold out, we’ve never sold out.’”
“We’re getting emails saying, ‘I can’t believe we just sold out, we’ve never sold out.’”
Black Nation for Everyone
With the app more popular than ever and racial and social justice increasingly important topics for voters of all backgrounds, Budhoo maintains Black Nation is for everyone. “What we do, what we offer, it’s for everyone. It’s not just for a certain race. That’s one of the primary reasons we converted it into a social platform: so people can connect, find things they need, and build a community together where it’s all love.”
Proof of Black Nation’s appeal and its ability to drive real-world change can be seen in its rise to the top 20 in the App Store, garnering more than 2,000 five-star reviews. Despite all this positive feedback, Budhoo and Black Nation are only just now scratching the surface of an app’s ability to change the world.
All images courtesy of Black Nation.