Kya Johnson is the founder and CEO of RainbowMe, an entertainment platform startup created to engage, inspire and inform children of color.
With an emphasis on Latino, Indian, Asian and African-American children aged 2-12 years, RainbowMe aggregates and creates original content compatible with all major tablets and mobile phones. The centerpiece is a streaming video service featuring acquired and original video programming, plus music, games and books.
Based in Durham, North Carolina, RainbowMe’s purpose is to offer positive, informative and entertaining content featuring characters and themes that celebrate diversity and resonate with this large and underserved target audience.
RainbowMe was selected in April 2015 as one of three companies to participate in the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program forged through a partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs and Code 2040, a non-profit which promotes diversity in technology.
When will RainbowMe launch?
We launched a closed beta phase of RainbowMe to test the concept and collect feedback from a limited number of kids and parents. We got a lot of great information and a positive response to the overall concept. The public launch for RainbowMe is slated for spring of 2016.
Why did you decide to start RainbowMe?
I’ve always felt strongly about creating positive role models for kids. When I was in college, someone said to me that families like the Huxtables, from The Cosby Show, don’t exist.
The seed was planted then and there, that if I had anything to do with it, every person of color would be able to know that, not only do families like the Huxtables exist, but they exist for all people of color.
In more recent years, I’ve been a mentor and one recurring theme that I hear from kids has been their surprise to learn that there are black lawyers. I wanted to expose these kids to as many professionals that looked like them as I could.
The best way to do that is through media, so I started doing research, and I found that less than 10 percent of mainstream children’s TV content features kids and people of color as main characters. I decided I needed to make sure that void is filled.
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
I went to law school and began working in my family’s law practice. The plan was for me to take over the family law business, but my entrepreneurial and creative interests keep setting me off on another path.
What inspired you to become a serial entrepreneur?
I have enjoyed practicing law, but I have felt the need to diversify and branch out, and to get involved in some new pursuits – things that I am passionate about and take advantage of my creative side.
What are you currently working on at RainbowMe? What happens during a typical business day?
As is probably the case with most startups, there’s not really a typical business day. That’s one of the things that makes it so much fun.
But right now, we’re getting ready to launch our first crowdfunding campaign at the end of the month. We are getting our campaign together, reaching out to possible donors, and trying to increase our social media presence.
What do you love the most about running your own business?
I love the freedom of only having to answer to myself. And I love being able to explore my creative side and the fulfillment that comes with originating an idea, seeing it come from a picture in my mind to seeing something I’ve created come to life. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
What is the toughest part when it comes to running your own business?
Everything is ultimately my responsibility, and there’s a team of people I’m responsible for. When there’s a bad day, it hits you a lot harder, as the person who owns the company, it’s a personal hit.
I feel like I always want to be a fixer – I feel like I want to be the one who fixes the problem – even if they aren’t always problems that can be fixed.
What has been your biggest achievement as an entrepreneur?
I would single out two things – one involves putting together the talent to build RainbowMe, and the other involves an example of early consumer interest in RainbowMe.
I am so proud of the team we have built to launch RainbowMe. We have high level professionals, from cable industry veteran executive Bernard Bell, our COO, to marketing and digital technology entrepreneur, CIO Talib Graves-Mann, to our CFO, web developer, chief legal officer and creative director. We have a team of really talented executives who truly believe in the mission of RainbowMe, which is very powerful and has helped us open a lot of doors.
The second achievement is a great example of the response we’re getting to RainbowMe and the need for it in the marketplace. I realized I needed to find content for the channel, so I decided to launch a scriptwriting contest. Just through social media alone – with no consumer marketing to generate awareness of RainbowMe – we received 150 proposals.
The winner is a show called Feeling Friends, which will be a part of our program lineup when we launch. This is another exciting example of being able to take an idea and actually see it come to fruition.
How do you approach finding a work/life balance as a busy attorney and a business owner?
I haven’t! I plan on taking a weeklong sabbatical after this crowdfunding campaign. I do try to get out a couple of times a week, but working one job 9-5 and running a company at the same time, doesn’t leave me with the time I need to incorporate balance!
What has been your biggest lesson as an entrepreneur so far?
Everybody does have an opinion. If you ask people’s opinion on something, they are all going to have an opinion.
It’s a matter of taking feedback and analyzing it and incorporating it in the best way you can but you have to be careful not to divert from your own path and what your ultimate vision is.
What‘s next? What goals are you working towards?
First we are working toward a successful crowdfunding campaign that’s beginning at the end of August, then a public launch of RainbowMe in spring 2016, and, ultimately, the positive social impact that RainbowMe is going to have.
If you could have dinner with any entrepreneur, who would it be and why?
That’s a no brainer. Oprah Winfrey. She’s been able to persevere to get to the level of success she’s achieved. Just knowing her story, she was turned down many times before getting her breaks in news, and then her own talk show – and then her own network. Those are some high aspirations.
Is there any other information you’d like to share?
Just one more point, we’re not creating RainbowMe just because it makes us feel better to have kids of color more fairly represented in kids’ media.
Studies show that culturally diverse boys and girls younger than 12 who regularly watch children’s television exhibit decreased self-esteem after watching, compared to white boys, who experience a boost in self-esteem. Why? Because kids are negatively affected when they do not see positive representations of themselves on television. With RainbowMe, our goal is to turn that around – so all kids have the opportunity to see positive reflections of themselves in media.
And finally, our crowdfunding campaign is slated to launch at the end of August, and people can go to www.rainbowmekids.com for more information about it and other things that are happening at RainbowMe.