african-diaspora
Business Management

Proudli: A web platform for Africans and the diaspora

For a long time, Africans have had to contend with difficult entrepreneurial and business circumstances. In addition to having capital problems, many would-be successful business owners have had to deal with lack of market for their products thanks to poverty. Africans living outside their native country are even worse off in terms of business ownership.

Started in 2014, Proudli is a multi-channel digital media company designed for supporting entrepreneurism, businesses and professional services to the global African diaspora. Though based in USA and with an office in Jamaica, the startup yearns for Accra in Ghana; and when the Ebola cloud clears, the startup will finally come home. 

The company’s first venture is a social commerce app and web platform with the aim of creating a centralised location to support black-owned businesses from across the globe. It houses all the features of Facebook and Amazon combined in one app.

“I have always had a deep interest and desire to do something that connected the diaspora back to Africa,” Renae Bruce-Miller, the Proudli CEO explains.

“It is difficult to live in the United States where one is faced daily with socio economic challenges of African Americans and how difficult it is for black-owned businesses to survive. I saw the need in the market and invented something that spoke to my passion and that need.”

“Whenever I travel to Jamaica I see the same issues and concerns, as Jamaican manufacturers who can hardly compete with the rising cost of electricity and cheap Chinese imports,” she continues. “Personally I know that the answer to these issues is to re-establish trade with Africa as, economically speaking, Africa provides more opportunities for trade, and it is not the pile of rocks and huts that Western media portrays it to be.”

What is Proudli?

As a platform, Proudli includes digitally streamed television channels, a magazine and an internet radio station.

“Proudli app has over 91 different features that deeply integrate it with other social networks,” Bruce-Miller explains. “Once you are linked to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Picassa, Flikr or Pinterest you can manage them from within the Proudli Platform.”

The CEO has a very specific agenda - to provide Africans within Africa and around the world with a platform that can unite them. “Our venture targets are investors who have a vested interest in Africa or the diaspora, not only from the perspective of financial investments but who can also bring traction to the business through their relationships in commerce, banking or entertainment,” she tells us.

With more than 2,000 business subscribers on board and 1.5 million page views within one year, the CEO is confident that the idea is going in the right direction. But why go black?

Bruce-Miller is confidently Pan-African: “So many may say that racism is dead, however economic racism and the marginalisation of blacks across the world is very much alive”.

She adds: “If anyone just scratched the surface they would find that only six cents of each black dollar is being spent within the black community. This is alarming as it creates an underclass of people who are the victims of un-remedied socio-political and socio-economic inequities. My marketing strategy then is to bring together people who have these views and would like to put their monies to use to support his fellow African wherever he may be.”

Who is it for?

“I refused to remove the word Africa from my logo…” Bruce-Miller asserts. On one occasion someone retorted: “The idea is brilliant but Mark Zuckerberg did not become successful by making Facebook just for white people.”

“To me this asinine suggestion to open Proudli for everyone comes from a mind steeped into an identity crisis,” she explains. Besides “I had to stick to my guns about who and what this project was for.”

The African diaspora are the perfect targets for Proudli. As Bruce-Miller puts it “When you really think about the experience of the Maafa and the systematic racism that ensued after, I cannot help but to be deeply proud of Africans in the diaspora who must overcome generations of unspeakable psychological and emotional hurdles to believe in themselves enough to start a business.”

She is also of the opinion that African Americans are 50 times more likely to start a business than any other people in America. “The problem is they fail just as quickly because they do not own and control their own media and thus affordable advertising is beyond their reach.”

The advantages of tech

Bruce-Miller is confident that the app has no equal in Africa. She maintains, “I have not found anything similar to Proudli in the sense of a Pan-African focused commerce App”.

In addition to developing a pioneer app for the continent and diaspora the founder has more than just a tech advantage. “I see myself as an African woman and have done the due diligence to study developing economies in Africa and I believe that my unique skill set provides a level of edge over someone who just sees this as a good idea to go and make it up.”

There are currently no competitors or someone with a similar tech product as the founder maintains.

“The Around the Way app is a black business app designed for finding black-owned businesses in the United States using Google GPS; well that’s a fantastic idea, however most black-owned business are not brick and mortar enterprises, most are online being run from spare bedrooms or the garage and that kind of app does not suit the purpose of the needs of black business owners, much less the diaspora.”

“I would not say that Jumia is my competition; this is an excellent online commerce site for Africa, however Proudli is for the diaspora to engage in commerce amongst themselves. My approach is a bottom up approach and I do not necessarily see Jumia as social commerce or a way of bringing people together.”

The journey to success

Tech startups are usually expensive. Proudli is not an exception. With interactions with financial institutions soliciting for funds she understood that there is definitely a gap between what can be accomplished in technology and the folks who hold the purse strings. But armed with some media training, she started a radio show and “I was able to meet investors that I offered debt in the form of convertible note shares and this is where the funds have been coming from…”

The founder does not leave us without a word of caution though. She believes that the Western ideals for Africa should change. “Africa is not a step down by any means; it is a giant step up for any business with visions of scalability,” she concludes.

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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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