Building an empire is no easy feat, but for Angelica Nwandu, there was no other option.
After hitting a bit of a storm in her early adult years, Nwandu found herself flunking both the LSAT and GMAT exams while some of her peers went on to the next step of graduate school. At the time, she simply did not have the funds needed to afford the classes to prep for the exam. However, this did not stop her.
On the heels of quitting a pretty stable accounting firm job, Nwandu chose to follow her dreams of becoming a screenwriter, a passion she first discovered as a kid. Little did she know, taking one leap of faith would soon propel her into a vision that was greater than what she had for herself.
During its initial launch, The Shade Room (TSR) had around 300 followers. To date, they now have over 25 million followers who are affectionately known as “Roommates.” It is now one of the most popular accounts on the Instagram platform.
Nwandu joined AfroTech in an exclusive interview to discuss how technology seemingly changed her life, the vision that led her to create TSR, and what’s kept her in the game so long after building a multimedia platform from scratch that managed to outlast some of its peers.
Editorial Note: Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: Here at AfroTech, our main focus is Black people excelling in tech. That said, how would you say technology has seemingly changed your life?
Angelica Nwandu: Everything we do, we’re able to do because of technology. It’s the technology of Instagram that was able to provide us with a platform where we could build our company.
Instagram is our largest platform, but not our only platform. We’ve also been able to expand to the website, which is thriving, and [we’ve managed to also] build up different properties. We’re able to do that because of technology.
AT: You are so right! Let’s talk a little bit about how you managed to build a platform as massive as TSR. From my understanding, it all may have come in a vision from God?
Angie: It wasn’t a vision from God. When I launched it, I was moving on my own. My purpose for creating TSR was because I was unemployed, and I was in a situation where I needed to find a hustle. I needed to figure out what I was going to do.
When I first started TSR, it was just a salacious platform where I was sharing my opinion on everything that was going on. It was very edgy and funny, and over time, not only was I not satisfied, but the roommates were no longer satisfied with that kind of content.
It was at that point that I was like, ‘I need a vision.’ I felt like I had built up a community of people. So, I asked God to give me a vision to transform TSR into something more important and better. The vision that I got was basically that TSR would become an information hub and be more important than just Black culture, but would go further into the news.
For me, at that time, it looked so crazy because we were very singular at what we posted. But, over the course of eight years, I’ve seen that we’ve done just that. Obama has stepped into TSR, President Joe Biden has stepped in twice, Stacey Abrams, and the list goes on.
We’ve gone further into politics, we’ve diversified our news, we do inspiration, too, and people look at us as a reliable source.
AT: Shout out to that vision. How do you respond to people who still only think TSR does more harm to the community than good?
Angie: I think that people who say that would prefer a platform that I liken to looking in the mirror and having a filter on. If you look in the mirror and you have a filter on, you really can’t see the true picture, you can’t see that the beauty is full of light. So, I think that’s what people want us to do for Black culture. They want us to put a filter on and just be a platform that only showcases the positive.
I mean, if you even think about your own life, when has it ever been beneficial for people to only tell you the positive things or show you the positive things?
AT: Oh, that’s a great point. Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to that younger version of yourself who was just out here trying to make something happen?
Angie: It’s so funny that you asked that because I wonder what the future Angie would tell me right now.
I would tell her, not to be cliché — to believe in herself and to understand that the opportunities are endless, to not limit yourself. Wherever you are now is not indicative of where you will be. I would definitely speak that into her because I went through a lot of depression and sadness. I had a lot of low self-esteem and I didn’t really value my talent. I didn’t know if I had anything to bring to the world. I didn’t know God had a future for me.
So, I would speak a lot of empowerment into that girl and say something like ‘Okay, even though things look really bad right now, even though you don’t have clarity on the future, just know God has a purpose for you.’