Scour Luvvie Ajayi’s Twitter feed on any given day and you’ll be sure to laugh, suck your teeth, get your life, or maybe all of the above.
The founder of popular pop-culture blog, Awesomely Luvvie, has made it her mission to engage or enrage you, and by no means does the self-proclaimed “troublemaker” have plans to slow down any time soon.
Today’s comedian isn’t just found in your local comedy club or creating six-second Vine videos, they’re penning laugh-worthy posts that are both insightful and unapologetic, and in a digital age where everyone’s struggling to find their place and to keep up with the ever-changing pace of technology, some of them are even getting paid to be themselves.
Bloggers like Luvvie have managed to create a space uniquely their own by staying true to who they are even when it may mean sacrificing paychecks from big brands, but as the culture critic and digital strategist unashamedly confessed during a #MentorMonday session with matchmaker and tech startup founder, Paul C. Brunson, “I may have talked myself out of rooms, but I believe that those rooms don’t matter. The ones that matter are the ones I’m already in and the ones that see me and say, ‘She should be in this room.’”
Not only is she in the rooms, but the Nigerian-born techie who also runs Awesomely Techie, is walking red carpets, doing interviews with Oprah, giving TED Talks speeches, and releasing straight-like-that-no-chaser books like, “I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual,” that cemented it’s place on best sellers lists. This week, it was announced Shonda Rhimes acquired the rights to Luvvie’s book and it will be turned into a Shondaland cable comedy series.
Let Luvvie tell it, she’s a 13-year overnight success. In other words, she started from the bottom and now she’s here.
Just twenty-one years ago, a nine-year-old Luvvie left her nine-bedroom home in Nigeria and settled in Chicago. Though she now proudly boasts of her Nigerian roots and culture, as the new girl, she struggled to fit in, and by sophomore year, had ditched her accent in order to adapt to her new environment. “You grow up and realize what makes you different is what makes you stand out in the best way,” Luvvie says.
By college, she found that her voice was not one to be diminished. During her freshman year, with the encouragement of friends, she launched a blog dishing on college life and roommates, but after graduating in 2006 with her degree in psychology and stepping into the real world, felt that it was time for a fresh start. So she shut down her old college-girl chronicles and launched Awesomely Luvvie with a humorous spin on pop-culture, politics, and anything else that piqued her interest. Though she had a passion for writing, she never imagined that her hobby would turn into paychecks. “I really didn’t approach it as a career because I was not buying into the hype that this was something that I could do as a career.”
Nonetheless, her fanbase grew as friends and family shared her hilarious posts where she unapologetically spoke her mind on things that others were afraid to voice. Within three years, she had grown a steady following, snagged a Black Weblog Award, and started getting brand-love for being Luvvie, adding ambassador to her bio when GAP reached out to partner with her to rock their new jeans line.
She also started monetizing her blog using website ads. Yet still, the idea of blogging full-time didn’t hit her until a year later when she was laid off from her job as marketing coordinator for the Community Media Workshop. “I didn’t know many people who were making a comfortable living as writers. It was more exception than the rule, so somebody like me who’s logical and needs to have a clear path, it didn’t make sense to me. I was still thinking I would go find a full-time job and get a traditional 9 to 5, but it was like the universe was trying to grab my face like pay attention, this is what you’re doing.”
“The universe was trying to grab my face like pay attention, this is what you’re doing.”
Instead of going back to working for another company, she took her knowledge of helping non-profits with social media and marketing and became her own boss as a consultant while continuing her tongue-in-cheek approach to writing. The views kept pouring in, and more brands came calling.
“They started seeing that my blog was very different than any other blog out there,” Luvvie says. “A lot of bloggers have niche like fashion, style, gossip, but I was the person who was basically intersecting all of these niches and more. My audience loved everything pop culture, they loved everything race, they talked about politics, so my place is where anybody can be who they want to be. I have an incredibly engaged audience so I think brands started paying attention like she’s kind of in a lane of her own and it’s made me stand out.”
Luvvie believes that unlike today’s bloggers who often want to throw in the towel before building a real buzz, not stressing over traffic numbers and writing without expectation allowed her to focus on what mattered most—understanding her audience.
“The bad thing about bloggers now is that they’re seeing all of the success from blogging and they’re like, okay I’m going to replicate that. A lot of us who started eight or nine years ago, we started literally for the love of writing, and we also didn’t give ourselves the pressure of success. So, for us, when we started, I just wanted to write, I didn’t come out the gate like, I need 100,000 people reading my blog, I just wanted to write, so there was no measure of failure to me in that way.”
Her wakeup call came when bigger brands started knocking at her door and notable outlets began recognizing her as one of the best voices in the blogosphere. Even The Academy Awards couldn’t turn a blind eye to Luvvie’s influence, and in 2012 invited her, along with blogging peer Afrobella, to be the first brown bloggers to do red-carpet coverage for the Oscars. More recently, she sat down to do an interview with Oprah, describing the experience in a recent blog post as “living in the realm of my dreams.”
“If it’s your purpose, sometimes doors will open for you that you might not have realized were there. And that’s the best thing when finally your gift is being affirmed. For me, when I finally committed to doing this as my purpose, really good things started happening.”
Being the voice of the people also means keeping it real, even when it’s uncomfortable. Last year, she chastised bloggers for not using their influence and their platforms to address racial injustices occurring in the black community in fear of losing out on ad dollars. It’s also something she weighs in on in her release, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual—a handbook of sorts on how to “act right” in the digital age.
Besides giving back through books and through her HIV/AIDS awareness non-profit, The Red Pump Project, Luvvie also shares advice to wannabe bloggers: “Don’t let self-doubt cripple you and render you unable to do work”, and stay true to who you are—always.
“If it’s your purpose sometimes doors will open for you that you might not have realized were there.”
“There’s always going to be two blogs that are very similar or writing about the same thing. But what makes people successful is their voice. People need to go back to what’s authentic to them. It’s really important for people to pay attention to themselves and speak like you speak, write like you write, and stop looking at the person next to you and seeing what they’re doing because you’re not running your own race because you’re too distracted looking at somebody else’s race and seeing just how you can be them. Just run yours. Run as fast as you can and the best way you can, as opposed to paying attention to the next person on the right.”
And Luvvie is one who certainly puts her money where her mouth is.
Check out “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual” here.