Meet Alice Gbelia

Founder
Catch a Vibe

Catch a Vibe is the award winning online lifestyle magazine dedicated to Black culture and going out in London. Founded in 2008 by Alice Gbelia, the magazine features event listings, reviews and interviews.

Last month Catch a Vibe was crowned Best International Blog at the 2010 Black Weblog Awards in America. Alice has also been announced as finalist for Blogger of the Year at the 2010 Precious Awards here in the UK.

Why did you decide to start your business?
I launched a first website in July 2007 but it was a hobby, not yet a business. It didn’t even have slots for ads so it’s fair to say that making money was not what I had in mind at the time.

It’s only in 2008 that I started to see the business potential of the website. I have revamped the website twice since then. The site you see now went live in September 2008.

I decided to create Catch a Vibe because there was nothing like it at the time. I used to check Time Out and other listings magazine for ideas to go out but I could not find the type of events I liked: Black plays, Black films and parties with good, soulful music. Those events were not listed and you had to be in the know to find them. So what we are doing with Catch a Vibe is bringing that information to the masses.

The other reason why I started the magazine is because Black arts and culture are not really covered by media, Black or mainstream. They tend to assimilate Black culture with hip hop culture when there is fact much more to it. We are not just musicians, we are also filmmakers, painters, designers and much, much more.

What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I‘m a media chick. I’ve worked for Red Bee Media, who provide content for EPG listings. I’ve also worked as a TV scheduler for a pan-African satellite platform and as a content manager for Sky.com.

Although they seem quite different, all these roles had the same focus: to present information in the most accessible way to the biggest audience possible. I apply all the tricks that I have learnt in those jobs to Catch a Vibe.

How do you select the events you feature on Catch a Vibe?
We try and feature quality events, with a good multicultural crowd, that are well organised and deliver value for money.

In terms of the features and editorials, we try and follow a theme. June was focused on South Africa, because of the World Cup; July was Summer in the City; August’s theme was Carnival and Caribbean culture; October is about Black History Month. We follow the big cultural events and put our own spin on them.

You recently won Best International Blog at the Black Weblog Awards, can you tell me what the feedback has been from the industry since you launched your magazine?
Winning the Black Weblog Award was fantastic. I honestly didn’t expect to win. Catch a Vibe is about arts and culture, a subject that is not as sexy as say, music or gossip. So to win both the popular and judges votes was a nice surprise.

Overall, the feedback from people in the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. I think they are impressed with our professionalism and dedication. Our listings are always up to date and each month we bring fresh interviews and reviews for those who want more in-depth features. A lot of our readers are in fact people who work in media or in the arts.

Twitter or Facebook? Which social media platform has made the greatest impact on awareness and traffic for your business?
Facebook refers a lot of traffic to Catch a Vibe, it’s one of our top referral websites. We have a Facebook page, profile and group, which certainly help.

Twitter does not bring as much traffic. We use it mostly to connect with like-minded people. It’s also the best place to get scoops or leads on interesting stories and to know what people are talking about.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
My working days are manic because I wear many hats. I commission the features for the magazine, manage the freelance writers, edit the features they send me, and answer to publicists and promoters requests. I also handle the marketing and ad sales for the website.

Networking takes up quite a lot of my time: I receive a lot of invitations to events, more than I can attend, but I can’t really complain, it’s one of the perks of the job. The only times when I don’t work is when I’m away somewhere with no internet connection. Otherwise, there’s always an email to check, an article to read, a paper to commission.

The main thing on my agenda right now is to bring in an online sales executive to sell our ad inventory directly to businesses. I hope to find someone before the end of the year. The Black Weblog Awards have brought in a lot of attention on Catch a Vibe and we want to capitalize on that.

What have been the highlights of running your own business?
I have the luxury to be able to pick the people I work with. My writers do great work, with and outside of Catch a Vibe. Some of them are radio presenters, actors, others are musicians, students… They’re quite an amazing bunch of people!

I also enjoy the fact that I can explore many different aspects of the business. I love the editorial side of things: brainstorming for ideas, commissioning content and reviews, editing and reading what my journalists have written. Marketing is my favourite bit. I had no idea of how to bring traffic to a website when I started, now I’m quite the expert. Sales is what I like the least, which is why I need to appoint a sales executive.

What is the hardest part of running your own business?
In my case, what’s really hard is that I’m doing it on my own. I work with freelance writers and web developers but I’m the only one managing the business on a daily basis. I’d love to have a business partner but haven’t had the chance to meet someone who shares my vision and has the same work ethic.

The long hours can also be quite a drain. There is so much to do that I find it really hard to find a balance. I try to include my friends and family in what I do as it’s the only way I get to see them.

What has been your proudest moment to date?
Winning the Black Weblog Award was one of the greatest moments to date. It’s rewarding to see that people appreciate our hard work.

There are lots of little moments that make me proud: whenever one of my journalists writes a great piece or whenever we get to cover an exclusive event. In September we got to cover a show during London Fashion Week. We attended Nigerian designer Bunmi Koko‘s presentation and got to interview her afterwards. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Do you have a business mentor?
I do not have business mentor but if I had to pick one, it would be Kanya King, the founder of the MOBO Organisation. She is quite a controversial figure but you can’t dismiss what she has achieved: 5 million people watched the awards ceremony last year and the MOBO Organisation is one of the most recognisable brands in UK entertainment.

I love the fact that Kanya financed the first MOBOs with her own money and that she still owns the event. I’d like to ask her what she thinks of people accusing her of selling out. I think that’s it’s an issue that every successful Black entrepreneur working in the arts or media and catering to the Black audience has to answer one day or the other. I’d love to have her views on that.

My second choice would be Claude Grunitzski, the founder of Trace Magazine. I’d like to know how he started with a magazine and then built a media network that includes a TV channel.

What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My mother is my number one inspiration. From someone looking from the outside in she is living an ordinary life but I know what obstacles she had to overcome to be where she is today. I admire her strength and I like to think that I inherited that from her.

I’m also inspired by artists. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who can create something out of nothing, be it a song, a story, a painting, even a pair of shoes. I find it magical! I don’t have any particular talent myself so I console myself by putting the spotlight on these creators.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own media business?
I’d say pay close attention to what’s happening on the web. Social media is shaping the way we share and produce content.

There is a lot happening in social media, beyond Twitter and Facebook and it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the trends. You have to be creative and figure out how to integrate that into your business.

Because of these constant innovations and the amount of free content that is available, it’s even more difficult than ever to come up with a viable business model. So, I’d tell them to think hard about how they are going to monetize their idea.

What are your future goals for Catch a Vibe?
Win more awards and build Catch a Vibe into a media network. I want people to turn to Catch a Vibe whenever they think about Black arts, culture and entertainment.

Is there any additional information you’d like to share?
I’m looking for business partners. If you had always wanted to create your own magazine or a media business but never really got to do it, join me instead! All the groundwork has been done, all we need to do now is grow the platform.


To find out more about Catch a Vibe visit www.catchavibe.co.uk. You can also find Catch a Vibe on Twitter and Facebook.


Alice Gbelia was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.

The Twenty Ten Club connects, inspires and supports Black female business owners. If you are interested in becoming a member you can find out more here.

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