Zach sits down with Side Hustle Pro‘s Nicaila Matthews Okome to talk about all things hustle. She shares her career journey, promotes SHP’s Podcast Moguls program, and breaks down the genesis of her Color Noir app. She also illustrates what it looks like to really build authentic relationships in today’s space.
Download Color Noir on the App Store!
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach, and you’re listening to Living Corporate. Now, look, y’all. Y’all know we have some dope guests on the show. Executives, musicians, entrepreneurs, activists. You know, real movers and shakers. I’m not trying to, like, not drop too many names, but I’m saying, like, you know, DeRay Mckesson, J. Prince, Preston Mitchum. I mean, come on. Like, we’ve got some peop–we’ve had some people on the show, and look, who would we be if we didn’t bring y’all another dope guest, okay, to parlay with us, to kick back, to chit-chat, to lay back, to–you know, to kick it one time for the one time… Nicaila Matthews Okome!
Nicaila: What a warm welcome.
Zach: Oh, no. Oh, I’m just getting started, Nicaila. Nicaila is a Jamaican-born Bronx-bred marketer and side hustler turned full-time podcaster and entrepreneur. Now, listen, y’all. She’s Jamaican and she’s from the BX, so she be workin’ workin’, okay?
Zach: In 2016, Nicaila created the Side Hustle Pro podcast. Side Hustle Pro is the first and only podcast to spotlight bold black women entrepreneurs who have scaled from the side hustle to profitable businesses. Since the launch, it has been named the quote “perfect entrepreneurship podcast” by Mashable and earned over two million–hold on. [record scratch] Sound Man, give me some reverb when I say millions. So it’s like, “Million-million-million-million.” Million downloads and amassed a loyal social media following of aspiring entrepreneurs. Oh, yeah. I’m excited just reading the intro. So with all that being said, first of all, ’cause she’s from the BX, I’m gonna add a hearty YEARP and–
Zach: And I hope it’s not culturally insensitive ’cause I recognize that you’re Jamaican, but we’re gonna add some air horns right HERE [they are dropped] and let these jaunts fly! Let’s go! Nicaila, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Nicaila: I am doing amazing. Listen, after that intro, I am on a high, all right? That is, like, the best, most warm intro I’ve ever received. Thank you, Zach. Thank you for having me in the guest chair.
Zach: Ooh. I’m honored, and I’m turning purple–’cause I’m blushing, you know what I’m saying? So for those of us who don’t know you, and I know I gave a little bit in the intro, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Nicaila: Sure, sure. So yeah, you covered a lot, but I guess from what you didn’t cover–so, you know, at the core, I am a dreamer, I am a storyteller, and when I was young, that looked like me being the little girl who loved, you know, making up stories, just being by herself in her own world, and later in life [it] would manifest in this career in marketing, specifically social media marketing. So I have over 10 years of experience in that lane, and while I was figuring out my life’s journey, what ended up happening is–throughout my life I’ve side hustled and come up with different things a few times, but coming out of grad school I had a hard time finding a full-time role, and that led me back to the side hustle path, but this time I was determined to actually grow it to the point where I could do my own thing. So the side hustle was the podcast, Side Hustle Pro podcast like you said, and I was able to market and monetize it to the level where I was able to quit my full-time job and turn my side hustle into my full hustle, and now I coach emerging podcasters in my Podcast Moguls program because I want other people to be able to have that experience. And since I have a lot of jobs and, you know, that’s just in my blood like you said, I’m also an app creator. So my husband and I recently launched the Color Noir app, which is an app devoted to all things melanin and Black Girl Magic. So really excited about that.
Zach: Man. So first of all, you’ve got–you got a lot of dip on the chip, ’cause we was gonna get there, but it’s okay. We’re still gonna get there a little bit later in the interview. First of all, I love this. Yes, I love the Color Noir app. Definitely in Podcast Moguls. We’re gonna talk about that as well. You know, it’s interesting, ’cause my–I know that you talked about, like, you know, how you made the side hustle your full hustle. I feel like the scariest part of anything is getting started, right? So you talk about–you talk about kind of not really knowing what you wanted to do after grad school, but, like, plenty of people finish grad school and don’t know what to do, and then they figure–you know, they do something. They end up going back to industry, or maybe they teach or something like that. What was the igniter for you to actually launch Side Hustle Pro specifically?
Nicaila: So the igniter for me was really rejection. I got rejected so many times in that period between when I graduated from Michigan–I went to the University of Michigan for my MBA.
Zach: Shout-out [?].
Nicaila: Shout-out. Go Blue. Graduated in May 2015, and [I] didn’t end up landing a full-time role until December of 2015. So between that time I had a whole bunch of rejections. I’m talking about–there was one company, I went on an interview–I had six interviews with, and I just knew I was gonna get that role… did not get the role.
Zach: Mm-mm! [read: No!]
Nicaila: Yeah! So what happened is I started blogging again and interviewing people, 1. because I was trying to figure out, “Okay, what can I do? I know I love writing. I know I love social media. Let me just explore and continue to work on things that bring me joy. I don’t know what it means. God, I don’t know how to make a career out of this,” but I figured that while I don’t have a job I should at least nurture those skills. So that was the initial impetus to just start the blog, and I was particularly interested in black women who were side hustling but were able to build out their business on the side, because 1. I was so tired of being rejected I was like, “Oh, I’m done with corporate. Even when I got a job, I gotta do my own thing. I gotta do my own thing shortly after, like, the last job I’m gonna get. No one’s ever gonna be able to reject me again.” And then 2. I also knew that, again, I was gonna go back to corporate and that anything that I was gonna start would have to start as me building it on the side.
Zach: One thing you said that I love is that–what I’ve observed, especially for, like, younger folks, millennials–millennials ain’t really younger no more. We’re, like, not the youngest people [?] anymore. What we’ll do is, like, you know, we don’t know what we’re doing, where to start, so we just kind of sit on our hands, and part of your story was you were like, “Look, I’m not getting a job. I’m gonna do something.” Like, you took that and you used that energy and put it towards something that eventually manifested into something viable, and that’s just–that’s so inspiring to me, like, no boost, because I think a lot of times what I’ve noticed is, like I said, we’ll just kind of, like, sit on our hands and be like, “Well, I don’t really know what to do, so I’m not gonna do anything.” It’s like, “Well, no. You could do something,” you know what I’m saying? Like, you could do–like, figure out–figure out something. Like, take that energy and put it towards something. Make it–
Nicaila: Absolutely, yep.
Zach: Yeah, make something–like, do something productive. Man, so that’s just super dope. So, you know, we talked about the first scariest thing. I think the second scariest part of doing something entrepreneurial is realizing like, “Oh, snap. This is something I can actually do full-time.” So, like, as you were building out Side Hustle Pro and as it was growing, at what moment did you go, “Ayo, this is gonna be me for real”? Like, “I got this”?
Nicaila: So, you know, I kind of had two of those moments in my journey. So the first one happened when I was freelancing. So because I didn’t have a job I was able to land, like, a freelancing gig with this organization, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, MLT, which prepares, you know, under-represented professionals for the career field and also has a super dope MBA prep program, which I went through, and I also went through it in undergrad.
Nicaila: Folks at MLT Family, much love to them, because they gave me a freelance role as a social media marketer during that summer while I was finding my way. That was one of the first moments where I was like, “Yo, I could–you know, worst comes to worst I could maybe start my own social media consulting agency. That’s one thing I could do.” But I kind of pushed that to the side because I was like–I just didn’t know how I would start that, how I would get any clients and what that would look like, and I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do. So continued to do that, continued to interview, got my full-time role–which ended up being at NPR, National Public Radio, in Washington, D.C., doing social media for their programming and their podcasts, ironically. So as I was doing that I ended up turning the blog into a podcast at that point, and the moment when I thought “I think I could do this full-time” is when I decided to start going after sponsorships. So within six months of the podcast launching, I pitched my first sponsor, and it just so happened that cold pitching–I landed that first sponsorship contract, and it was $4,000, and it’s like, you know, $4,000 living below your means? Like, that could cover me. Like, I could live off that.
Zach: Ayo, straight up.
Nicaila: So I was like, “Wait a minute.” I really went hard. “I could do this full-time.” So that was that first light-bulb moment.
Zach: Man, that’s really cool. The other thing–and your story is, like, just putting yourself out there, right? You took a shot. Like, you had some evidence under your belt that, like, this was something viable with the podcast, and you said “Okay, I’m gonna put something together,” and you–and you made it. That’s really cool because, you know, people out here trying to pitch and stuff all the time, and I know we’re gonna talk about Podcast Moguls in a little bit, but everybody doesn’t make it on their first attempt, you know what I’m saying? Like, you hit a full-court–you pulled up from, like, 40, like Steph Curry [?]. And wet. My gosh.
Nicaila: It was such a–it was such a good fit, and that’s what I try to tell people about sponsorships and pitching anything. Like, you really have to know who you’re pitching and what is in it for them. Like, what are you providing? Is your audience a good fit? You have to know your audience too.
Zach: You know what? And it’s interesting–and I think your marketing background plays a part in this, right? Like, understanding–understanding, like, the mind of your audience and understanding, like, the psychology behind even putting together an effective pitch. And, you know, I’ve been in Corporate America since 2011, and one thing I’ve seen is that first-gen corporate professionals, especially black and brown folks, are not the best at really marketing themselves, whether that be, like, to get a promotion or find another job or even to, like, get a side hustle going or get sponsorship and get support for a side hustle. I met folk with genuine passions, and I know, like, part of the TED talk is–[we?] didn’t talk about this and all the stuff–in your quick intro, you know what I’m saying, you’re still really humble, Nicaila. Like, you didn’t talk about the fact that you was on–that you had a TED talk and you [were] talking about multi-passionate professionals and the future of work. But it’s okay, I’ma let you make it. But I’ve met some folks with multiple passions or ideas and aspirations that they’ve been sitting on for years. Like, they have–like, they have ideas for years. Like, what would advice would you give to folks who don’t really know where to start when it comes to amplifying your voice in the working context?
Nicaila: First thing I always tell people is you’ve got to get out your own way, so the first obstacle is your mind and all of the stories we tell ourselves about, “Oh–” And a big thing that holds us back is what we tell ourselves people are going to think, when in actuality none of that matters. Those people–these, like, mystical people that you’re making up that are gonna say this or that or these obstacles that are allegedly going to get in your way, let that happen and then deal with it rather than assume it’s gonna happen and stop yourself before you even try. So that’s #1, get out your way, and #2. Start so ridiculously small. Just by–you can write down everything you think you need to do and then start chipping away at that. So for example with a podcast, I thought about it in 2015. I didn’t end up launching until 2016, but that’s because I needed to tell myself, “Oh, I’m gonna learn how to do it first.” So I spent some time just YouTubing, I spent some time listening to other podcasts to get a feel and doing all that stuff. Like, that was part of my process, but I knew I had an end date in mind, I had a launch date in mind. So start going through the process of launching what it is you want to launch. Invest in experts so that you can learn from the best. I’m not talking about taking endless courses. I’m talking about looking at the top person who you want to replicate and investing–if they have something–investing in learning more from them, whether that be going to a conference that they have, investing in a course that they have, because there’s no sense in you, like, sitting around, trying to figure everything out on your own and getting in your own way. So those are my two biggest tips.
Zach: That’s–man, that’s really dope. You know, and it’s interesting because I feel like a lot of what you’re talking about also comes down to really, like, understanding who you’re trying to connect with and building authentic relationships. It’s tough though because, like, it feels as if everyone, especially in 2019, is in sales mode on every social media platform, right? I mean, like, no joke. I was on LinkedIn today, and look–you know, Nicaila, I’m a fairly handsome man, okay? My teeth are–my teeth are fine, and yet, like, this dentist hit–a dentist hit me up on LinkedIn talking about “If you need anything, you know, with your dentist needs and you have, you know… use this promo code.” I was like, “What?” Why is a dentist pitching me on LinkedIn?
Nicaila: I bet you what though. Guess what? Because it’s worked for him. I bet you that’s why.
Zach: I bet, I bet. And I can’t knock the hustle. We live in a capitalist society, you know what I’m saying? It’s built on the dollar. I get it, you know? Whatever. Different topic for a different day, but with that being said, what does relationship building look like in 2019 when these platforms that were initially built or pitched to us as really, like, relationship building and community building are really being used to kind of always, you know, sell something. And people are fatigued from that, they’re wary of that. What does it look like to really build authentic relationships in today’s space?
Nicaila: Well, you know, I–before I answer that, I do want to say that I don’t necessarily think sales is a bad thing. So that’s where we can have a dialogue, because I think that’s part of the reason why–that stops a lot of us from taking our business from where it needs to go, because we’ve been taught that sales is a bad word–and don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of bad salespeople. There’s a lot of practices out there that I’m like, “Come on.” For example, when I get a DM that’s just, like, selling me. Like, and I don’t even know the person. I’m like, “This ain’t it. This ain’t it.”
Nicaila: It’s like, “This works for you? No, this is not happening.” So I know I said the dentist, that might work for him, but honestly most DM pitches are 100% terrible. But at the same time, if you’re using your platform to tell people more about your services, like, that’s how people are gonna know about it, otherwise no one will discover it. And I’ve even experienced that with Podcast Moguls, right? You know, because I did a soft launch I wasn’t talking about it as much, but when I finally really started to ramp up sharing, sharing, sharing, that’s now when I’m beginning to build the level of awareness that I want to get to, because not everyone sees every post. Actually, no one sees every post, so in order to make sure that everyone knows about it you have to continue to talk about what you’re doing, and that’s what I think of it as – talking. So some people think of sales as pushing and being really aggressive to try to force someone to do something. That’s not what I think of it as. I think of explaining to people what you know and leaving–and allowing them to make an informed decision. So that’s #1, and #2. I absolutely still think of social media as relationship building. I mean, look at us. I think that–you know, we met via email, right, when you reached out for this podcast, and we continued–even though I couldn’t do it at the first moment that you reached out, we continued–you know, [?], might touch base via DM or what have you, and a lot of the people who end up enrolled in any of my programs, whether it’s Podcast Moguls or my Master the Gram program, a lot of them follow me on social media, and we have talked multiple times–we’ve had multiple touch points, and when they’re looking and they’re ready for an expert to help them with Instagram marketing or launching their podcast, they immediately turn to me and trust me because they know that we have a relationship. It’s not just that they saw my ad. Some people it is, but for most people they had some kind of connection with me before they enrolled in my program.
Zach: That’s real talk, and you know what? Again, I’ma brag for you, ’cause it’s–it’s funny, because the reason I even connected with you–so I would have likely found you anyway, right, but what accelerated me to connect with you is because there are people in my network, when they knew that I was starting a podcast they were like, “Oh, you need to talk to Nicaila,” and so your brand had already established itself enough that I had heard about you in other ways and then kind of–I connected to you through an informal referral.
Nicaila: Yeah. [What I’d add?] too about relationship building–so I’m that weird person who, like, I look at Instagram as the same way I would a networking event, and because I’m actually an introvert, because I prefer–I’m a homebody–I prefer social media networking over going to–walking into random rooms where I don’t know people. That’s just always been my preference, but I’m not a weirdo. Like, I actually–[both laugh] I engage with people’s comments. I mean, I will leave a meaningful comment once I start following you. I will–we will have actual, like, meaningful dialogue [?], and so that’s how I view relationship building on social media, and then when I have the chance, I do try to connect with people, and I’m doing more of that, especially this year. So there are people who I’ve talked to on social and Instagram specifically, and I feel like I know them, but I haven’t, but then when I go to conferences where I know that, you know, a good amount of these people are gonna be there, that’s an awesome moment to kind of cement that relationship. So it started online, and then we make the offline connection, which just helps it to flourish even more.
Zach: I love that, and I do appreciate you pushing back and challenging. I do think that it’s definitely a space where you can make those connections, and I love the fact that you reinforced that. I think because on my side–and it might be just–you know, that’s why I’m in your Podcast Moguls class, and we’re about to talk about that in a second, but it might just be because of, like, the level of interaction I get where it’s, like, a lot of, just, DM requests about, like, sales-y things, and not necessarily, like, just relational things. So with that being said, let’s talk about a little bit more about what you have going on and where people can learn more. I’d like to start with Podcast Moguls because I’m currently in it, and I’m loving it. And then I’d love to talk about the Color Noir app, but I’ma let you wax poetic. You take it where you want to go.
Nicaila: Sure. So Podcast Moguls is, you know, one of the major, major things that I have going on, because in 2018 I realized after–speaking of DMs–after years of just, you know–ever since I launched my podcast, after years of just, like, getting DMs, consistent emails, questions, questions, questions about how to do this whole podcast thing and how to grow it to the scale that Side Hustle Pro has grown to, I decided to package my knowledge and actually launch an accelerator program. One was to finally answer everyone’s questions in one place, and the second was because when you look at the podcast charts, it is just really lacking in diversity, okay?
Zach: It is, it is.
Nicaila: And I’m like–I know we have a lot of great things to say and a lot of information, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be up there, but it’s not enough to have great content. It’s not enough to have valuable content. You have to know the marketing piece, and that’s what I realized was my differentiator, my background in marketing. So I started my Podcast Moguls, which is an 8-week accelerator. Essentially I take people through the process of–you can start if you’ve already launched. So if you’ve already launched you can go right into working through the [?] steps to scale your podcast, but I also take people through the steps of launching, coming out the gate strong, growing that audience, and then continuing to grow from there. We have weekly coaching calls, so it’s really cool because–it’s not just a course, it is an opportunity for me to also really learn what people are struggling with so that I can continue to stay on my toes and just refine and refine content and give people information. So it’s been a really rewarding experience for me. I think sometimes when we are on this path of entrepreneurship doing very untraditional things–like I said, when I was really exploring blogging I was like, “I don’t know where this is gonna lead. This makes no sense. This can’t possibly be a job.” And I still have those moments where I’m like, “This can’t possibly be a job,” but I’ve learned through Podcast Moguls is when I see the results that people are getting, their reactions when they break in the Top 200 charts in their category and break through 10,000, 20,000 and more downloads and land their first sponsor, that has been a light-bulb moment for me to realize, like, “Listen, bloom where you are planted.” You never understand exactly why you are doing this thing right now, but keep doing it. One day it will all make sense, because this is benefiting someone. This is providing value. And this is gonna change your lives–just like launching a podcast has changed my life, this is going to change your life. So I really am just so happy that I launched Podcast Moguls, and for anyone out there who’s listening and, you know, has an idea for a podcast or started their podcasts and want to take it seriously and not just treat it as a hobby, I definitely recommend you come over to the program. Just go to PodcastMoguls.com. So you said to also talk about Color Noir, right?
Zach: I did, but can we just pause for a second?
Nicaila: Sure, yes. Yeah, I think we do need to pause, because you’re in the program and, you know, you can definitely speak to being a podcaster who has a podcast, was doing your own thing, growing on your own and deciding to join.
Zach: Yeah. So first of all I love the passion, right? And so, like, I got this app–see, I ain’t trying to be just too–just too ridiculous, ’cause I was gonna play, like, these little “ow”–’cause I felt like you was preaching. Like, “Mmm.” Like, “[imitating],” you know? I was like, “Golly, she is going off.” But yeah, no, no doubt. You’re absolutely right. Living Corporate has been around for about a little over a year, and so we’re at a point now where I feel like we are–we’re definitely continuing to grow, but I want us to get to that next level, and I’m a little impatient, and I also just–there’s a lot of things that I know I don’t know, and so what I’ve loved about Podcast Moguls so far is how open it is and how it really does reinforce community through the social media aspect. I love the content. It’s just really–it’s just really, like, smartly put together. Like, it’s very interactive. It’s self-paced, which is really important because I’m a manager at a big four consulting firm, so, like, I don’t have time in the regular part of my day. I have to kind of, like, carve out time in my weekend to get in–I just love it. I love it. I’m just now really getting into the marketing aspect of it, but what I’ve already gone through just to, like, the basics and, like, the background, and, like–I’m loving it. I think it’s absolutely great, and I definitely–this is not even an ad.
Nicaila: That makes me so happy. Right? That’s not even an ad.
Zach: This is not an ad, y’all. I am not a corporate shill, okay? I am for the people. Yo, I’m still with y’all. I’m still with y’all. Don’t play.
Nicaila: No, but that makes me so happy, and also I’m really excited for you because I’m a listener of Living Corporate, and like I said, it’s all about–
Zach: Stop. Stop.
Nicaila: No. It’s all about this valuable content [needing to get?] in the right areas. Like, you know how many of us struggle with this? I mean, all of my business school classmates, like, this is our dilemma right now. This is–this is what I see people talking about in GroupMe and these conversations that you’re having on the show. So it’s all about getting it in front of more people.
Zach: Man, I’m so honored that you listen to the show. Dang. I’m, like, really dang cheesin’. Uh, cool. Cool, cool, cool. Let me–[composes himself] All right, cool, so let’s talk about this Color Noir app. So before you get going, I love the pictures, right? Like, it’s super fire, and, like, Candice, my wife, she’s a big–she’s a big colorer, so, like, when she–she’s in it as well. Like, we’re fans. We are fans.
Nicaila: Yay! I love to hear that too. So Color Noir, I mean, yeah, I didn’t realize how big coloring books was until my husband Muoyo–like, he is–you know, he’s the app guy of us, so he has been in the app business for almost ten years, and he kept coming across all of these coloring books. “Coloring books?” And he’s like, you know, “I think we should create a coloring book app, but for black people,” because as usual, everything that’s created is not created with black people in mind. The images, you know? Look at Disney, Disney movies. You talked about Band-Aids in one episode. It’s crazy that literally–
Zach: We did talk about Band-Aids.
Nicaila: Literally everything that’s created on Earth was not created for us. So that’s a big opportunity, y’all, for those of you out there figuring out what to create, literally look at anything–
Zach: [laughs] And make it black.
Nicaila: [?] selling it, okay? So, you know, he brought the idea to me. Of course I loved it because I just love seeing myself represented, you know? That’s why, as soon as Rihanna launched Fenty, like, I–that’s my exclusive makeup line now simply because I love what it represents. So we developed this together, so he worked with the actual developers and, you know, handled the technical side whereas I was all about the look and feel, because I am a user. I am the target customer, so I needed it to be reflective of me. And then one of the smart things that we did, we also created a Facebook group so that as people are using it–when we launched it it was beta, so everyone could use it, give us feedback before we really started marketing it, and so that group gave us really great feedback about skin tones, us needing to add more skin tones, the images, and of course Android, which is coming very soon, so–
Zach: Look at y’all. First of all, it’s so fire. It’s so fire. Like, the designs are so intricate too. These are beautiful stencils.
Nicaila: Yeah. So, like, we discuss every image, ’cause it’s like, “What is this–” You know, it can’t be too complicated that you can’t color it, but at the same time we wanted images–eye-catching images that you don’t see every day. You don’t see a black mom breastfeeding her child in any old app, okay? So that’s what we got going on. So check out Color Noir, y’all. N-O-I-R.
Zach: Come on, now. And look, Nicaila, you know we got you. We’re gonna have all the information in the show notes, so y’all make sure you check [them] out. Now, look, you know that we could keep on going, but let me just go ahead and stop, because we got other things going on. I want to respect your time. Any parting words or shout-outs?
Nicaila: Yes. So parting words. First and foremost, I want everybody out there, if you have a passion that you are not exploring right now, start making some time every week just to see–just to see–what it would be like if you actually pursued it, and also if you want that kind of encouragement, definitely come over to the Side Hustle Pro community. We are Side Hustle Pro on every social media platform, so on Instagram, Facebook, just search Side Hustle Pro, and of course I really hope you listen to the podcast if you haven’t already to get inspiration from dope black women entrepreneurs who started as side hustlers.
Zach: Come on, now. Look, that–this is awesome. First of all, Nicaila, for real, thank you for being on the show. This has been wonderful, and–
Nicaila: Thank you so much for having me.
Zach: That does it for us, y’all. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure you follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate–please say the dash–dot com. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, but look, don’t play. Our DMs are wide open, so you can go ahead and DM us. We’ll make sure that we shout y’all out. Get your letter in that way. This has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Nicaila Matthews Okome, founder of Side Hustle Pro, multi-passionate entrepreneur and general snatcher of your edges and mine. Peace.