Color Noir: Love and Entrepreneurship

Muoyo Okome and Nicaila Matthews are living their dreams of love and entrepreneurship.

The New York City-native, DC-based couple recently launched their new app entitled, Color Noir. It’s a digital take on the adult coloring book trend, geared toward helping adults relax while creating art. However, Color Noir is the first and only coloring book app that celebrates Black people. From depictions of Afros and wide noses, to thick lips and high cheekbones, there is no mistaking that the people featured are manifestations of the African Diaspora.

Muoyo Okome is an app mogul with an educational and work background in computer science, as well as the founder of App Magic, and host of the Game of Grow Podcast. Nicaila Matthews Okome is the creator and host of the Side Hustle Pro Podcast and co-founder of App Magic. They are known for a variety of projects related to their own businesses, particularly helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn how to carve their own lanes in the digital world.

When they are not busy working with other people or on their solo endeavors, they find time to brainstorm and come up with genius ideas as a team, which brings us back to Color Noir, which launched in early May. AURN American Urban Radio Networks caught up with the dynamic husband and wife duo to get the scoop on how their new venture celebrates #BlackGirlMagic, plans to work with artists, and the business of building successful apps.  

AURN: Talk about your respective backgrounds and how you ended up coming together to create Color Noir.

Muoyo Okome (MO): I have been involved in the app game since, 2011 and so a couple years ago, I was doing research and came across this adult coloring books trend. I had not been familiar with it, but it was popping up. A lot of them were becoming very popular and doing very well so I looked into it. It turns out people are using them to relax and I did not really get it at first, but when I started playing around with them a little bit I started to understand why. I also noticed that none of them really paid much attention to Black people. You see it happen with a lot of different kinds of entertainment, so it’s the same thing here. It was an afterthought at first. I didn’t really think much more of it until we saw Black Panther together. The week we saw it, it was so powerful just seeing the images of Africa on screen with a Black cast, Black directors—maybe the money was white [laughs]—but everything else was Black so that was powerful, and we started to see that same idea everywhere so we said how can we use our talents to do the same thing and promote Black stories, Black representation, so this idea of the coloring book app was one that came back up and that’s what kick started this.

Nicaila Matthews Okome (NMO): And he brought the idea to me. My professional career has been a marketer, a social media marketer. I have worked at different organizations leading social media marketing and always had my eye on—whenever are thinking about something—who the customer is. How are we connecting with them online? I’m also the visual one of the team. He’s a computer science guy, that’s his educational and professional background, and I am the more visual and marketing side of the team. So, I felt strongly about how we would curate that experience, everything from user interface to the images that we are using, how we bring this to life and make sure that we have really vibrant images with skin tones that reflect us. I continually provide that feedback to that and pay attention to what kind of images people are gravitating to and together we combine our talents to make Color Noir what it is.

AURN: I love that this is digital so you can just tap it and get the color precisely as you want it. It is also dope that you can look at the images and tell that the people are distinctly Black, but if you wanted to make somebody purple, you could. That being said what are some features of Color Noir that you really like?

NMO: The number one thing for me is, just all the overall Black Girl Magic. I love the women with natural hair. I remember when having natural hair was not cool when I first went natural, so now being able to reinforce just how beautiful we are in all our shades, plus all of our hairstyles is definitely the number one piece for me.

MO: I am proud of that overall and the user experience. The biggest thing to me, more than any individual feature is the community that we have been able to curate. Through it you hear from people saying, “I use this with my daughters. It’s amazing that they are able to see themselves in something that they’re playing with.” I find that really powerful, and then we will get different feedback and suggestions from people whether in the Facebook group or on Instagram right now. We’re hearing from everybody and their mother about when Android is coming because Android is not ready yet, and even tho people are at my head, I like that people care. So, it is not a feature, but the community has been huge and that is something that we want to continue to invest back into and continue to develop and grow.

NMO: And it gives us energy! When you are doing anything before you bring it to market, it is kind of just an idea. It is our baby, and then once you release it and you realize other people care about it too it, just gives you energy to go even harder, and we plan on making it the best it can be.

AURN: Just for clarity, Nicaila, you mentioned that you are a visual person so are these images your brainchild? Are you designing and coding them?  

MO: These are images that we purchased the rights to. An artist has done these already. So yeah, we just purchased them and were able to use them for the future. The way we envision that going is more of the same, but a lot of artists have also reached out to us asking how they can be a part of it. We are just figuring out the right ways to do that. We have to keep  whatever kind of legal ducks in a row to make that happen. So we want to try to provide opportunities for other Black artists as well. And then the other part of your question was our actual code. I have a team of developers that I work with, that I have been working with for a number of years, that do the actual coding. I guess I am performing more of a project management function when it comes to all of that.

NMO: I am the quality control. It is kind of like the final decision making for the app comes to me because ultimately, if I do not love it, or if I do not think it makes sense for our audience we would rather go back to the drawing board.

MO: And I think that that level of curation is super important because you know, let’s be real, the majority of our users are Black women. We do not want to be that company that is allowing a man to make all the decisions when our users are mostly women. We have seen how that goes in the news lately. Not a good look.

AURN: What’s the process like once you decide you want to create an app? How long does it does it take to really see the idea through from your head to actually getting actually getting it launched?

MO: It really depends. I say to people, sometimes it is like if people ask how much a car costs.  You could buy a hooptie from the used car lot across the street or you could buy a Bugatti from a certified lot. So within that, things will come into play that adds to the level of complexity.  What is the team that you are working with? Are they based in the US or are they based overseas? We work with developers overseas, good ones, but overseas, and you are able to have certain cost savings there because of that. Also, what is the track record of the person you are working with? People with a better track record can demand a higher price, but all that being for this particular app, we started in January and it is now it’s now May [at the time of this interview]. I say it was ready by April, so that was about four months.  

NMO: And then how many test cycles did you go through?

MO: This morning I uploaded the fifth update since it is been launched, so it is an ongoing process. It is such an it depends kind of answer, but what I always recommend to people if they want to come out with an app is, number one, don’t don’t get so wrapped up in your idea and the genius of what you are trying to do. People do not care about you like people care about what they want and what they need. So, you want to try to align with those things and see what you can offer to fulfill those things that are going to be successful, and then to strip down whatever you are doing as much as possible, and try to get that first version out as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible. No matter what, it is always going to be wrong in some way, but you want to actually get it in people’s hands and allow them to tell you how it’s wrong because you will never guess what it is. I hope that was a helpful answer.

AURN: That was helpful. The other thing is, you two obviously work well together. I can feel your chemistry over the phone! But at the same time, working with your spouse can be a challenge, and on top of that you two are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs sometimes have a hard time turning their brains off, so talk about your work dynamic and how you are working on—

Both:  We are still working on it! [laughing]

NMO: We are such opposites when it comes to this whole entrepreneurship thing. I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur now for just a little over a year. Muoyo has been at it for going on six years. As an entrepreneur married couple we are so new to the game, so we have really had to learn to as soon as we identify something that’s not working and talk about it. For me, that would be something like, there is a certain hour we are learning to turn off work. For him, he loves talking about work all the time and it is no different than talking about life, whereas I am like, after eight, I want to watch a movie and I do not want to talk about the app, or if i happen to be home working at the same time as him I am like, “I am on on my lunch break and I do not want to be talking about work right now.”

That actually happened today [laughs]. But to give you a more specific answer, yes, we had to learn to communicate. Communicating our needs has been really helpful for us. I communicate the fact that I need to talk about work less than he does, and he is very good at adapting to that, but I am also good at recognizing that he eats, sleeps and breathes apps way more than I do. So, recognizing that I need to be a listening ear and be supportive, and not always just shut it down when he comes up with a new idea is super important. Working with each other in that way and also giving each other space is something we have really been implementing this year. If one person is working from home, the other person goes somewhere else and vice versa, so that we can come together and be refreshed and excited to see each other, and that we see each other as romantic partners and not just business partners.

AURN: You both work with other people in terms of helping them on their entrepreneurial journeys.  Do you ever you ever have moments where you are giving someone advice and you are like, “Wait a minute I should take my own advice?”  

NMO: That is one of the reasons why I love coaching for emerging podcasters on how to launch and skill their own podcast. Sometimes, when you get further along in the journey, you forget how it felt at different stages and it is hard to keep that same energy and that level of enthusiasm, so talking to people at all stages reminds you just how important it is, how critical it is, and also for me how taxing it is. Teaching someone how to put themselves out there, share their message with the audience, and also gain visibility for their podcast and seeing how that can change someone else’s life—to hear from someone who shares their perspective—I do not have an eloquent way to put it but that just gives me so much encouragement to keep doing what I am doing and to go even harder.

MO: Yeah, I really enjoy working with other people on this stuff, and I really enjoy their success. I got a text a couple weeks ago from this brother who was so excited because his app finally crossed its first thousand dollars in a month, and he said they were going to cross $2,000 recurring the next month and that he really felt like he was starting to get it. I was in the supermarket jumping up in the air. It is just really cool. Like, that is not quit-your-job-and-retire money, but I see where it is going. I recall when I hit those kind of reflection points and truth be told, it is not a long distance starting from there to getting to something that could be a full time income.

NMO: As far as taking our own advice, something that pops in my head is the fact that everything in life is a test. That is a quote that Muoyo always reminds me of so lot of times , with people that we are advising, it is not the reassurance that if they do this one thing then everything is going to work out all of a sudden. We have to remind them that this is a test. We need you to spend some time testing out this approach, measuring what happened, and then using that to inform the next step, and that is always an important reminder for us as well, because when you reach those those inflection points where you are wondering if you are on the right path and what you should be doing, you remember life is all about testing and continuing to iterate on those tests.  

AURN: Speaking of tests, you also mentioned making frequent updates to Color Noir. Talk about some of the things you plan to unveil and what the rest of the year is looking like for the app.

MO:  We submitted something today that is going to improve the user interface, just the look and feel of the app. Nothing was really wrong with it. Nobody complained, but it is just one of those things where it is a pride thing. We want it to look as good or better than anything else out there. Something that I am very excited about is the idea we talked a little bit about it earlier, being able to bring different Black artists in and provide different opportunities. I think the more that you are able to provide opportunities and help other people, the more successful you can be and the better it feels. We have not figured out exactly how that is going to work, but that is definitely something that is in the roadmap. Other than that, I think the biggest thing right now is really getting it out there. We are starting to advertise and get the word out.

NMO:  I am excited about the future images that we will curate, and that the series’ that we will implement and things like that. We can’t reveal everything that’s coming, but I do know that it’s going to be some awesome series’ that we roll out with new images.

MO: Coloring books are not the only area of need. It is not the only area that needs Black representation if you look at the App Store—we are not trying to take over the whole world or anything, but there will be other other apps that we produce with the same kind of mindset, the same kind of idea. But for now we will put our full focus on just making this one really great.  

AURN: Earlier you mentioned that Android was coming but it is not ready yet. Why is it that certain apps come out on iPhone first and then Android comes later?

MO: It is easier in a lot of cases, so iPhone is a lot more uniform in terms of its operating system and with its platform. There are only a few different screen sizes you need to design for and stuff like that. It is just a lot more of the uniform experience. Android has so many different kinds of configurations and different things that you need to worry about, so it is a little bit more costly to develop in some cases, and it can be more tricky. The other thing is that iOS tends to monetize better so you can quickly make your investment back. It is not all about money for us but it is important. We are investing, we do want it to be here for long term, so we’re just trying to do it in the right way.

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Tag someone who needs to see this 😍 Drop a 💛💖 for @colornoirapp. After realizing millions worldwide use coloring book apps to have fun & relax, but NOT ONE prominently features black people, we (@realappmagic & @sidehustlepro) decided to create @colornoirapp, the first and only coloring book app celebrating US ✊🏾 ⠀ @colornoirapp is way more than just an app or a business for us. It recently went over 100 App Store reviews in its first couple weeks ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, and we love them all, but our favorite ones are from parents who mention how impactful it is for their kids to experience these images. ⠀ Also love that we get to share this journey as husband & wife. Over the weekend, we both spoke at the Caribbean Startup Summit in Barbados and had the opportunity to share our stories with 100s of local entrepreneurs. Made this quick video for @colornoirapp during our return flight. How did we do? ⠀ Drop a ❤️ for @colornoirapp 😍 Tag a friend to share – #colornoirapp #sidehustlepro #realappmagic

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