Andrew McDonald and Giovanni Iriarte-Young were classmates at the University of Washington when they headed down to Oakland for the Afrotech conference. While there, they wanted to support Black-owned businesses, but found it difficult to do so with existing apps.
So they created one themselves.
McDonald, previously a Navy sonar technician, and Iriarte-Young, a former engineer at Boeing, teamed up with fellow UW grad and veteran Tema Woods to launch Seattle-based startup The Ebba.
The Ebba (Essential Black Business App) helps users find Black-owned businesses across the U.S. in categories such as food, cosmetics, fitness, travel, hospitality, and more.
The app is part of a growing effort to highlight Black businesses through filters on major platforms like Yelp or specialized apps such as the Official Black Wall Street.
There are also other Seattle-based efforts that drive people to minority and women-owned businesses, such as TheWMarketplace and the Intentionalist.
The Ebba recently launched an updated version of its app which allows users to buy products while exploring community and history. They plan to incorporate augmented reality into the app so users can scan their environment and learn more about events related to Black history.
“Our overall goal is to get people to explore their communities, learn along the way and support the businesses within them,” McDonald said.
There are 8,000 business listed on the website; some are added by business owners and others are handpicked by The Ebba’s team. The startup makes money from a commission charge depending on how much a business earns on the platform.
When sorting through businesses, the team has to figure out the context of the industry when evaluating a company.
“How Black does the business need to be? How do we make it more equitable depending on the industry of the Black-owned company?” Iriarte-Young said. “The best position is for companies to gain exposure and grow so that the Black community has more representation business-wise across all industries.”
We caught up with McDonald, Iriarte-Young, and Woods for this Startup Spotlight. Answers were edited for brevity and clarity.
Our competitors and how we are different: Our main competitors would be Google and Yelp, as well as Seamless, powered by Grubhub. They serve a huge audience but they’re not really focused on the Black community to the same degree as we are, because we come from the Black community. Our entire inception is for the Black community, our mission is to accelerate Black growth — no one has to push us in that direction, it’s already incentivized in our business constitution. We also provide a more intimate relationship with Black businesses and our users, trying to provide a more personalized experience inside your local area.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Not trying to grow too fast. We wanted to expand as we got further into the business and listen to what the customer was asking for. We wanted to know what they wanted to use so we could implement it to the app in a way that satisfied what other companies might not be doing.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not applying for grants as early as possible. There were a lot of grants we could have gotten in the past year that we didn’t because we thought we would have to put ourselves out there and grow fast, but it didn’t seem to be the case. We realize now that you can still get that grant money and you can still go at your own pace.
Our future goals: We definitely have interest in getting into the supply chain industry. We’ve also been contemplating the idea of having a kids version to teach financial literacy and stuff like that to children. And going into the food and delivery space, too.