With their growing popularity, emojis have become a second language for black millennials whether shared through texts, memes, or tweets. Through Apple’s latest update, we were finally able to use emojis that look like us, but something was still missing – culture. The Howard graduates and brothers Trey and Donovan Brown took note and created WeMojis, the most comprehensive mobile app showcasing Black and Latino culture. Available on Apple and Android devices, the app and custom keyboard features an extensive collection of everything from sorority and fraternity hand signs to facial expressions and international flags. We caught up with co-founder and CEO Trey Brown to learn about their journey, thoughts on Apple’s latest emoji update, and more.
OBWS: What inspired WeMojis, and what were the first steps you took to create it?
Trey: First, we made a simple observation that there were no culturally relevant black emojis in the marketplace. This is before we knew Apple would come out with their black emojis. We were dedicated to bringing that to the marketplace because we knew not only were we underrepresented but there’s a need for it. We got in contact with the artist Shawn Perkins and, with his help, we made the emojis. It was very important that we kept the original DNA of emojis while bringing in our cultural flare. I feel like we captured what people were looking for and that was to have emojis that looked like them and reflected their culture. It’s about the overall black experience and we were the first to do that. We’re the only ones to do that.
OBWS: What would you say was the most challenging part of creating WeMojis?
Trey: That would be the lack of open technology. So basically, when we released WeMojis Lite, there was no way to get it on the keyboard. You had to go through a third party app. You could post the emojis on social media but you couldn’t use them in texts. The technology was limited due to the framework of the different platforms but when we released WeMojis keyboard we got to the point where there was a lot more functionality. We were a step closer. Now what we’re trying to do is get full integration and essentially that requires us going to the bigger guys – Yahoo, Google, etc - and sending out the proposal for images to be approved on all platforms. Everything depends on the download numbers and how popular it is. It’s really just been the technological hurtles we had to go through.
OBWS: How did you go about building the app? Are you and Donovan developers or did you outsource?
Trey: We outsourced because we weren’t creating brand new technology, we were just making it as user-friendly as possible. We’re actually looking for black developers right now. It’s just difficult because there’s no network or database for any of that. So you can search for a coder but it’s difficult to search for black coders.
OBWS: What would you say has been your greatest professional success?
Trey: Well I’m only 26 so I’d say WeMojis speaks the loudest when it comes to my greatest success so far. My job was so extensive as a project manager and dealing with 3 different time zones, cultures, and language barriers. It really did put me through the fire and I’m a different person now.
OBWS: Is WeMojis your primary project?
Trey: Right now WeMojis is my primary project. We definitely have other projects that are game-changers. But once you have your first successful idea you have a lot more confidence to pursue other things.
OBWS: We always hear people say that when you’re an entrepreneur you work even longer hours than you did when you were working for someone else. Is that the case for you?
Trey: Yes, but it’s busier in a different way. When you're working for someone else it’s pretty much a steady flow but when you’re an entrepreneur you’re not always busy. There are downtimes when you're waiting for something to happen, and then you have to bask in the results you got. I feel like that’s the healthiest way to go about it. Work until you get that accomplishment, take a second to enjoy it and thank God for it, and then tackle the next goal. There’s no point in stressing yourself out.
If you’re actually being an entrepreneur and living that life you’re not really in that mindset where you think “OH MY GOD I’m so busy”. You have your busy days but you love what you're doing so much that it doesn’t feel like it. If you do feel that way then you’re probably not enjoying the process (laughs). I feel like that’s the true sign of an entrepreneur, when you can embrace that journey. And you can’t be scared to do that.
OBWS: Do you think the introduction of Apple’s more diverse emojis affects your business in any way?
Trey: No, I actually think it helps. We came out before their update. We commend Apple for pushing for diversity but I think what people want to see are the culturally relevant features. We know what resonates with our market and the market Apple is trying to appeal to. The cultural relevancy is what matters, not just changing the skin color. African Americans don’t want seconds. So I don’t think Apple affected us in any negative way. I think they just assisted us in getting the message out.
OBWS: What advice would you give aspiring black entrepreneurs in the app development world?
Trey: I would tell them to make sure that they try to link with other black developers. And make sure that their idea is protected, trademarked, and, if it’s new technology, patented. Run your idea by other developers and project managers. Get a business model. How does it make money? Once you have that, you can decide whether you want to outsource or not. Find a way to make it happen. They can also reach out to me. If I like the idea or know of someone who would be interested, I’m more than willing to give feedback. I am an alumnus of Howard University so I understand the importance of black networking. Lastly, if you’re going to get into the app world you have to leave your ego at the door.
OBWS: Are there any other black business owners that you look up to?
Trey: My mother and my father. My father owns several medical practices on the island of Bermuda and my mother manages a few hedgefunds in Bermuda as well. The nation of Islam model from the '60s also inspired me, mostly for their philosophy of building black businesses. And my grandfather because he came up during a time where there was a ton of segregation and he still made things happen. Anything you could think of from nightclubs to taxis, he had a piece in it.
OBWS: What are your future goals for WeMojis?
Trey: Well it’s either to be integrated into all platforms or acquisition, and branding opportunities. Besides that we have a lot of technological updates for the existing apps to make them even more user friendly.
Head to www.wemojis.com to download the app and keyboard.