When Tika Sumpter was pregnant with her daughter four years ago, she was frustrated at the lack of internet content and community about motherhood for women of color.
So the star of ABC comedy “Mixed-ish” decided to launch her own media company to fill the gap.
Actor-producer Sumpter teamed up with media exec Thai Randolph, EVP and GM of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud digital comedy brand, to form Sugaberry. The company, funded by the two co-founders, is first launching a podcast later this month and plans to develop original video content, live events and an ecommerce business catering to an audience of brown moms.
“Black women don’t usually get to delight in mommyhood, which is why I wanted to build a safe and sweet destination for modern moms of color, regardless of what stage they are in,” said Sumpter, whose other acting credits include films “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “The Old Man and the Gun” as well as OWN’s “The Haves and Have Nots.”
When Sumpter sought out info during her pregnancy back in 2016, she said, “Everything was about the death, doom and destruction about black moms.”
Black moms have considerable purchasing power but remain largely underserved and underrepresented in media, Randolph said. “There’s a huge market opportunity here,” she said. “The commerce and content initiatives focused on motherhood are sorely lacking in diversity.” African-American buying power jumped from $961 billion in 2010 to an estimated $1.3 trillion in 2018, per a study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the U. of Georgia.
On the commerce front, Sugaberry plans to recommend curated products and generate affiliate fees through partners like Amazon. “Our hope is we really get connected to this community, and that translates to us creating our own products,” said Randolph, citing the evolution of businesses like Emily Weiss’s Glossier and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop that started as content plays before branching into ecommerce.
Sumpter and Randolph hired Blaire Bercy, former head of video strategy at HelloGiggles (now part of Meredith), as editor-in-chief and content strategist for Sugaberry. Time Inc. acquired HelloGiggles, co-founded by Zooey Deschanel, in 2015. At Time Inc., Bercy went on to launch The Pretty, the company’s first digital-only beauty vertical for women.
The company’s first media offering will be a podcast, “The Suga,” produced in partnership with E.W. Scripps Co.’s Stitcher, slated to premiere March 23. Hosted by Sumpter and Randolph, the weekly conversation series will explore motherhood from the perspective of notable brown moms. Featured guests will include Jazmyn Simon (HBO’s “Ballers”), best-selling author Justina Blakeney and Dr. Imani Walker (Bravo’s “Married to Medicine Los Angeles”).
“It’s a space for us to talk about the things that haven’t been afforded us to talk about,” said Sumpter, including topics like sex and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“The Suga” will be available on Stitcher as well as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and other platforms. Stitcher has lined up an initial slate of sponsors for the podcast.
“We’re excited that Tika and Thai have partnered with us to create ‘The Suga,’” Tiffany Square, executive producer of Stitcher original programming, said in a statement. “Not only will listeners get a personal glimpse into the lives of these two very dynamic Hollywood creatives, it’s also an opportunity to add intentional stories of black and brown motherhood to the podcast space that will resonate, validate and be rooted in joy.”
In the next phase of its rollout, Sugaberry’s website (sugaberry.com) will feature original reporting, parenting advice, and columns from celebrity guest contributors and influencers. Later in 2020, the startup will launch SugaberryTV as a YouTube channel. One of the original shows in the works is “Wine and Dine,” a roundtable discussion to “tackle taboo topics,” said Sumpter. It’s like LeBron James’s “The Shop” or Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk,” but specifically for moms.
Sumpter and Randolph first met in early 2018 at L.A.’s Soho House, where they hatched the early plans for Sugaberry over glasses of Champagne. “The first thing Thai said was, ‘I’m not interested in a blog,’” Sumpter recalled. The goal was to build a content-driven e-commerce enterprise, building community through original storytelling.
Right now, Sugaberry is self-funding because “I feel like it gives us more control over what we want to do without someone saying, ‘This is going to work, this isn’t going to work,’” said Sumpter. She just wrapped shooting the first season of “Mixed-ish” last week and is focusing on launching Sugaberry in the near term.
Sugaberry’s marketing plan is rooted in community-driven word of mouth, starting with Sumpter’s social-media following, Randolph said. “The podcast is important because we’re focused on building a community,” she said. Prior to joining Laugh Out Loud, which is majority-owned by Hart with a minority stake held by Lionsgate, Randolph was a member of Facebook’s global marketing solutions team, managing strategic partnerships and digital transformation initiatives with U.S. agencies.