April Bowler is a proud “Blerd” (Black nerd). She went from slaying the video game and tech streaming world to becoming co-founder and chief operating officer of H.A.G Entertainment, a media, marketing, and creative agency dedicated to urban nerd culture.
The former streamer, also known as ThatGirlSlays, decided to take a different approach and help her partner, Lo Cunningham, build and uplift The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community to what it is today. With over 63,000 members, Bowler is leading the movement to raise BIPOC representation within the anime/gaming space through her community. She also supports the community in growing their own brands with the Blerd Business Network, a free professional networking group, and a suite of resources designed to help Black small businesses and creators in “nerdy” spaces.
Recently, Bowler partnered with The Otaku Box to host boutique gaming conventions across the U.S. that will feature live performers, cosplay contests, gaming stations, and free merch. The next “Blerd” meetup is in Orlando, Florida, on Sept. 24.
Bowler shared more with BLACK ENTERPRISE about her journey as an entrepreneur, living as a digital nomad, and the mission behind her businesses.
How did The Official Hip-Hop, Anime, and Gaming community inspire H.A.G Entertainment and the Blerd Business Network?
My partner, Lo Cunningham, founded H.A.G Entertainment and The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community. The two were created at the same time in June 2018, but we didn’t incorporate the business until 2019.
He invited me to join him in August of 2018, and my involvement initially started as being a brand ambassador for his new organization, which was around 300 members at the time. He shared his plans with me to build an entertainment company, so we always had that roadmap guiding us and looked to other established companies as inspiration.
Blerd Business Network was created out of a need to distinguish community members that were there purely for entertainment from community members that were looking for support growing their brands. Our solution was to create an entirely separate group before Facebook introduced the subgroups feature.
What does your supportive work mean to you, and how do you stay motivated?
I love taking a supportive role in the community. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and helping people, and I don’t like being the center of attention. As our business model became more apparent, I took a more backseat role. I became more service-oriented as opposed to being at the forefront, like a creator or influencer, which is how I started as a streamer. This shift suits me much better because not only do I enjoy it, but that is also where my skills lay.
It is very easy for me to stay motivated because I get to combine my two biggest passions: creating spaces for people to connect and traveling. H.A.G Entertainment has helped me realize my dreams of being a digital nomad and working for myself.
What were your biggest lessons learned while growing your Blerd community into businesses?
One of the biggest lessons I learned while growing our business has been understanding how to prioritize my time and energy and making data-driven decisions to determine what makes an impact from a business perspective and what is necessary for us to advance. As our community and business originated together, I initially coordinated many of our community engagement activities myself.
Eventually, I had to step back from those activities even though I enjoyed them; but because my role in the activities was not necessary, as in someone else could help facilitate them, and this provided leadership opportunities for others.
As an entrepreneur, do you credit any of your success to your sacrifices? If so, what were they?
Yes, I absolutely credit a lot of our success to the sacrifices I’ve made. The biggest, some would say most extreme, sacrifice I’ve made was selling my home and about 90% of my belongings to downsize and live a more mobile lifestyle. My partner and I decided to buy a bus, which we are converting into an RV we will live in as our permanent domicile.
I was introduced to what is called “skoolie life” and instantly became obsessed with the notion of living on the road. Deciding to downsize meant selling almost everything we owned. We repurposed some electronics that we use for business ,but otherwise, it was a very difficult thing parting with my possessions.
What advice would you give to a young gamer/streamer who wants to build an online business?
My piece of advice to anyone looking to build an online business, whether they are a gamer, streamer, or any other type of content creator, influencer, or small business, is that there is always a certain standard of professionalism you must maintain.
Understand that companies are motivated by data, so it’s important to become a data-driven individual and to use that information to guide decisions and strategies.