The light needed to be different. Dana Chanel, the Philadelphia-based tech entrepreneur, was ready for her interview, but the cameras, she determined, were not.
These were not Inquirer cameras. One of Chanel’s employees quickly handed this reporter an actor release form, so that her crew could shoot the interview, and share it through their ever-churning flow of content on Instagram. Chanel directed her videographers in her North Philadelphia HQ, the open office with exposed brick walls where she plots growth for Sprinkle of Jesus, an app that provides access to prayers and sermons, among other inspirational updates; Curl Bible, an e-beauty supply store; Earn, a financial advising firm; Jumping Jack Taxes, a tax services company; and Alakazam, a mobile app builder. Once she and her team settled on a spot that could capture her in more of the natural light that was streaming through the windows, she explained that filming the conversation was absolutely necessary.
“It has to be. It has to be on Instagram,” she began, later elaborating, that she and her team call their brand of behind-the-scenes chronicles “reality IG.” “Right now, Instagram is our new television … [B]ringing to life the vision not in a way that is so scripted or — I’m showing you my life.
“I think that’s why, honestly, people are so, like, intrigued right now with specifically our content is because we’re showing you [Spanx founder] Sara Blakely, when there was no camera around. We’re showing you Oprah Winfrey, when she got fired and went into business for herself,” she offered, as analogies. “We’re showing you the process of what entrepreneurship looks like. And we’re finally letting … people be a fly on the wall of a room that they’ve never been invited to or, to be honest, that they couldn’t afford to be in.”
She welcomes her roughly 680,000 followers to see how she navigates as a 25-year-old Christian entrepreneur, often taking time to stop and deliver a sermon-like message on what that is. A Brooklynite who spent much of her upbringing in Middletown, Del., she initially moved to Philly for community college. She employs 15 for her multiple businesses near 5th and Diamond Streets, which she runs alongside her husband and father.
The story goes that Chanel, whose legal name is Casey Olivera, found God several years ago while she was working the front desk at a strip club in town, which she won’t identify. At the time, she was immersing herself in a scripture, and that, she explained, showed her her purpose. Chanel doesn’t argue in the style of prosperity gospel that good money comes to the saints who wait faithfully. Rather, her posts often urge viewers to get up and grind toward a better life. And it’s the grind that’s she’s determined to broadcast. She’s on camera 90 percent of the time, she said. Her days typically start around 5 a.m. Even on Christmas Eve morning, this 8 a.m. interview was happening between two meetings on her calendar.
Chanel believes it’s her calling to push the black community toward building intergenerational wealth, through constantly sharing advice on starting tech businesses, as she has. When asked why tech would be the means for black advancement, she carefully explained that it’s not really about the cash. Rather, she went on, it’s about the information stream and who runs it.
“Money is the last thing, what we need to have is this power. And we only have power in what society deems a financial asset, and it’s data,” she said. “It’s how fast can I talk to you before the enemy does.”
The devil, as they say, is busy. Dana Chanel perhaps aims to be busier. We couldn’t resist asking her about New Year’s resolutions. The following has been edited and condensed for length.
How do you set goals when a new year is approaching?
I love data. Your business speaks to you every single day. Your business is your best friend … Your business, you just have to learn how to communicate with it. And that thing called data will tell you, when — I’m going to call a business “she,” ready? — when she’s in pain. When she’s feeling neglected. When she’s exhausting her efforts in the wrong area, from e-commerce to licensing. She will let you know everything, but it’s a matter of: Are you reading the data, and once again, applying solutions for her to feel better again? In a relationship, we are constantly fighting for love, for care. And guess what else we’re fighting for? Number one thing we’re fighting for in a relationship: a plan. And so in 2020 you have to come up with a plan.
Why do you think Philadelphia has been the place where you built all of this?
One, God’s hand. I can’t control it … I don’t really know that part. But then two, strategy, you know what I mean? We were up by New York, but it was, oh my gosh, New York rent is so expensive. So what we got here and how we’re able to build, I thought it was very, very important to become a big fish in a little pond … and how is it we were trying to help our community, so we can be potent in one space to get some traction, just like a music artist. It’s like, you got to get hot in your city, before you can sell out a show in a different city.
When you start a business, it doesn’t always have to look the way it looks to other people. Just get started. Stop being afraid to be at the bottom. Just get the process. You’re going to be already growing as an entrepreneur, learning process and procedure and how to manage your money, once again, how to be self aware enough to manage your discipline as an entrepreneur.
What would you recommend for other people as they’re setting goals for the new year?
I would love to give some great motivational speech about what you should do about setting goals. Dude, don’t be a coward. Set big [goals], and don’t let nobody tell you ‘no.’ You go. You gotta punch your way through. You got to be bold; you got to. I wouldn’t say steal or kill to get it, but I mean, close enough to it. You got to kill your own ego. You have to kill the shame. You have to kill being afraid to be seen at the bottom by your friends and your family. Who cares? They wasn’t willing to help you with your bills anyway. Like no, when you really think about it. Go, go, go, go, go!
How do you define serving?
Serving is me doing whatever necessary to make sure that this family business is thriving enough for us to extend. If another family needs a transplant, we got enough for the both of us. Another family needs peace, we got enough for the both of us. Another family needs financial stability, we got a strategy that could work for both of us. Serving looks like doing whatever necessary for us all to win. And I don’t care how belittled or low it has to be. Dude, I still sweep the steps. Because ain’t nobody gonna do it.