Starting a business is the hardest thing Morgan Elise Johnson has ever done. An independent filmmaker by profession, Johnson caught the entrepreneurial bug back in late 2015. She decided to quit her job and launch The Triibe, a digital media platform centering black millennial voices in Chicago. She created thetriibe.com with two fellow Northwestern University alums. Johnson took on the role of president and creative director. Her responsibilities include fundraising, handling business deals, and shaping the overall business model of the company.
“I know how to write a script but they didn’t teach me about negotiating contracts and licensing content in film school,” Johnson, 29, says. “Some of these skills I had to learn on the job. Without mentors acting as teachers, advocates, and connectors, I think we wouldn’t have had the success we’ve had so far.”
According to a report from American Express OPEN, there were about 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. in 2017. And minorities made up 46 percent of all women-owned businesses.
While most businesses fail within the first two years, a 2018 report by SCORE found that women entrepreneurs experience greater success and are more likely to stay open when they have mentors supporting them.
Johnson has relied on support from mentors and advocates to help her learn more about the ins and outs of running a business.
“When you can’t afford a lawyer, you need someone to send you an example of a contract. When funding opportunities arise, you need someone to vouch for you, to make those connections,” Johnson says. This is the type of help she’s received from her network of mentors and advocates.
“Although I work in media and the arts, I had to intentionally build relationships with lawyers, venture capitalists, and financial advisors to fill in the gaps,” she explains. “There are not many examples of black women publishers for me to look up to.”
Because of this, she’s paying it forward in a variety of ways. She is passionate about building community with other independent media organizations in Chicago. Partnering with other indie outlets has helped her learn how to improve the platform. It’s also helped uplift the work of others focused on reshaping the narratives of underserved communities.
“I’ve gained a lot from approaching other media companies and saying, ‘Hey, I like what you’re doing. Let’s work together.’,” Johnson says. “Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, and compete with legacy organizations, I find my niche and do that very well. I also recognize and amplify the works of media platforms I admire.”
She’s also passionate about teaching aspiring content creators, and professionals in other industries, about the importance of narrative — and, especially, ownership of certain narratives. She does this by mentoring interns at The Triibe and giving educational media talks at schools, summits, and more.
For Johnson, entrepreneurship shouldn’t be about the individual. It should be about teaching and opening doors for others to share their light with the world.
“Sometimes it’s more productive to work together than to be in competition,” Johnson says. “I’m creating that legacy and hopefully I’ll be a mentor for the next generation.”