You might be familiar with “The Shade Room’s” 24/7 approach to publishing celebrity gossip in real time on social media, but you might not know who runs this new media machine. Angie Nwandu, 25, birthed The Shade Room via Instagram exactly two years ago starting out with 10K followers in just the first couple of weeks. Four million followers later, Nwandu now has the gossip industry in the palm of her hand. Whether the writers are posting messy clapbacks, baewatch alerts or the lstest fashion trends, they have managed to keep everyone glued to their page as a guilty pleasure.
After growing up in foster care during her youth, Nwandu needed an outlet to escape her troubled childhood. She found comfort in writing and and continued to pursue her passion through college, although it wasn’t her major. Nwandu admitted she lacked professional media experience and knowledge of how to create a website, which was the root of her starting The Shade Room on social media. What began as a mistake for the budding entrepreneur evolved into a lucrative blessing landing her on Forbes: 30 under 30, NBC: The Black list and Time Magazine.
Rolling out spoke with Nwandu on how she is handling the challenges of her new career, how she uses her upbringing as career inspiration and expansion for The Shade Room brand.
What was the starting point for The Shade Room?
Yea, I actually didn’t have any background in media. I was a writer and that’s where my background was. I would write poetry and screenplays with a screenwriter. I started my career in writing when I wrote my first screenplay and it went to Sundance Film Festival. I was awarded a Time Warner Fellowship and started The Shade Room right after that. Doing those things kind of gave me the confidence to start a business and so that is what pushed me to start the page. Everything I am doing in media is new for me.I had lost my job at the time so I was up on all of the blogs. I had a lot of free time on my hands so I was paying attention to what was going on in entertainment and primarily celebrity gossip. I wanted to start my own site. I was so busy on all those sites that I thought why not start my own. If I’m going to do celebrity gossip then I had to do it in a way that works for me as far as turning it into a business.I didn’t start off as a good writer. I remember the first thing I wrote was a poem. It was horrible and everybody was like ugh,okay. It was a poem about social workers. I was mad about my social worker at the time. I was like F all social workers and kept going in. [laughs] I took that moment of embarrassment and worked harder on my poems and got better. I did the same thing with music. The first song I wrote was horrible. Everybody heard it and thought it was whack. I started writing more songs, so I really attribute the foster youth. Steve Jobs was a foster youth. A lot of them are very successful now. I think that it’s not so many, but there are examples of it. I feel like when you’re in foster care if you’re able to put all those emotions into something productive and creative you will do well. I credit my past to that.
How has your past and upbringing inspired you to take media on as a career?
I am so grateful for it. If I had the opportunity to go back and change my past to make myself more privileged I would not do it. I think that what happened because of all the things I was going through growing up caused me to need an outlet. I needed something that I was going to put all of my creative energy and emotions into. When you see people who are talented and creative it comes from something. I use my imagination to help me get through life. I couldn’t imagine myself in a better scenario or a better world. That’s what I worked for and that’s what made me write. It became therapeutic for me. I see myself as a writer and I just enjoy doing anything that involves writing whether it’s poetry, screenwriting, music or doing The Shade Room. I don’t know if I would’ve had this gift if I didn’t use it as an outlet.
The Shade Room is considered the people’s blog. Can you explain that concept?
I think that The Shade Room just kind of became itself. When I think back to the day I started it, I didn’t really put much thought into the name. It was a quick thought and I called it The Shade Room. I wanted it to be a place where people could share their honest opinions. In the beginning, I used to do my own opinions of how I felt about things and then the community started to grow and they kicked me out. They didn’t want to hear my opinion anymore. When you say your opinion you’re going to be biased. There are going to be celebrities you like and celebrities you don’t like. I learned very quickly that our voice has to reflect their voice with whatever they feel and like, which is primarily coming from the Black community. When the Black community was mad at Stacy Dash we were too. It’s the people’s blog. They tell us what they want and we try to stay unbiased, but we do have an opinion. It’s just an opinion coming from the majority of Black people.
The gossip blogging industry is extremely cutthroat in terms of how these sites dish out news. Do you ever feel like some of the stories are too explicit or sensitive to publish?
The first thing was the way that the news was presented. I am not picking a particular site to say that they do it I am just saying that for me it came off especially mean. Sometimes in the articles, the headlines were kind of rude like they would call you the B word. Sometimes with the gossip, I see it go to far. People will talk about your family, what you look like and if you’re ugly or fat. There is was to present the news without having to do all of that. We have rules for publishing. We don’t talk about weight, family and we’re not going to call you out of your name. I think there needs to be a certain amount of respect. I knew it was going to be different coming from my mouth because I am a writer. I knew the way that I wrote something was going to be animated and funny.
Why is it important for women to be in control of their image?
I was out of town the other day and I was talking about Beyonce. I feel as though when Beyonce first started she always told herself to what she believed she would be today. We didn’t see her airing out people’s business, having naked pictures online, or get into any beefs. Even until this day we haven’t seen her do anything but maintain her class in the public eye. I think that comes from knowing your worth and where you see yourself in the future. If you see yourself at a certain level then you’re always going to hold yourself up to that level even if people don’t see you as that yet. For Black women in the media, everyone should be able to see who they will be in the future. If you have big hopes and dreams for your future then you won’t take the low hanging fruit like getting on reality TV acting crazy. I think it starts with some kind of idea of one’s self.
Why did you start The Shade Room on Instagram instead of creating a website?
At the time, I didn’t know how to make a website so I started it on Instagram. When you hear a lot of people say they want to know more about The Shade Room it’s because we are on social media. A lot of media companies like MediaTakeOut, BuzzFeed and Bossip were created when the market wasn’t saturated so it is very hard now to start one and have it be known. When you look at the past five years and see how many media companies have started there isn’t a lot. This was at a time when content was put on social media and media companies were trying to build their relationships on social media. On accident, I was able to tap into that so I published them directly. I used the traffic from social media to build my internet home. Now we are about to come out with an app.
How did The Shade Room bounce back after your page got deleted?
When our page got deleted I thought it was done and wanted to quit so bad. My team pushed me to keep going and we were able to get all of those fans back. It is easy to quit when things get hard but you have to keep going. Work without passion is nothing to me. If you’re doing something you aren’t 100 percent passionate about, then it is going to feel like work and you won’t like it. Passion is what is going to keep you up at night and what will wake you up in the morning. It will also keep you energized spiritually with what you’re doing. The dollar will come after you find your passion.
Do you feel The Shade Room receives the same respect as other Black media outlets?
We do have a lot of respect from some Black publications like for instance rolling out. We have other Black media companies that definitely show us love and respect us, but for the most part, when we were starting out we were not respected. We started on Instagram so naturally people didn’t take us serious because it wasn’t traditional media. Usually, when you come with something that’s different and not the norm people are going to look at it and wonder what’s going on. They don’t see the future of it because they have not seen anyone come off Instagram and do something big like that. They didn’t think it was possible even still today. Some people will call it trendy media. People are not showing respect for the platform and think that once Instagram is gone it’s over. This has been done before. When you look at BuzzFeed they started off as a media company. They started off doing quizzes on Facebook. The quizzes started going viral and they used that to create a website and media company. BuzzFeed is one of the biggest media companies out there right now. That’s what I’m looking at. They love The Shade Room and tell us to keep going. Bigger media companies show us a lot of support.
What affirmations do you lean on for your success?
The first thing is to educate yourself. It’s funny that you say that because in my own mind I’m not successful. There are so may things I want to accomplish, but I would say The first thing is to educate yourself. Before I start anything I am fearful because it could either go up or down. I think the only way to easy yourself of your fear is to educate yourself so that you know as much as possible. If you go into a test you’re only scared if you’re not prepared. I would say keep a small circle around you. A woman once told me “ You need somebody older than you who’s doing what you want to do in your field and somebody younger than you that wants to do what you do.” That is a perfect combination because my older mentors that have media companies just want to rock with me and learn and grow. I have learned so much from them and then I will get that energy for the person that wants to be where I am and use that as motivation. It is definitely good to have one above and one below to help you. I would also say perseverance and consistency is the number one thing when it comes to business because it goes up and down.
What is your end goal for The Shade Room and how do you plan to expand the brand?
I am always trying to figure out how to improve myself. I have people say The Shade Room is a $100 million dollar idea, but now what’s in my head is how do we actually make it into a $100 million dollar company? How do we get it to be this big company that everybody sees? My whole goal is not to just make it a big company and have money. I want to make it beneficial for the community as well, so that is why I am trying to diversify it. We are mostly known for celebrity gossip. I want us to be known for all forms of entertainment. A lot of people come to The Shade Room and not watch the news. When we post stuff about politics it gets the same enthusiasm. People aren’t just going to want to hear about gossip. I want to start a branch of The Shade Room called the “The Come Up” and focus on entrepreneurs and their opinions on current issues. I’m am trying to determine the right pathway for us to go. It is just a lot to do. The Shade Room was just an experiment that I was trying out and it went really well. Now I am having to change what I thought my future would look like into something else, which is exciting, but it’s not just smooth sailing.