A New York City comedian creates an incredibly inventive app aimed at promoting Black-owned businesses.
Jon Laster’s career has been built on his ability to make people laugh. Now he wishes to alter the course of history.
Following the assassination of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the comedian was marching in a protest on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway when he decided to do something that would have a broader impact on the Black community.
“I then texted a friend and said, ‘I want to build an app to support Black-owned businesses,’” says Laster, who majored in economics in college with an emphasis on poverty.
“All minority groups face challenges, but we have faced the greatest financial challenges of all, evidently since the day we arrived here,” Laster said. “We endured several hundred years of non-payment, followed by a slew of shell games.”
BLAPP, which launches in early August, is his solution.
Not only does the app allow Black merchants to directly sell products ranging from books to handbags, glasses, and clothing, as other apps such as Potato Hole, founded by musical legend Booker T. Jones, do, but it also directs users to Black-owned businesses.
Laster’s Silicon Valley connections enabled him to leverage technology that provides a map of Black-owned businesses throughout the United States. The idea is to encourage people to shop locally and to support not only Black-owned restaurants and bars, but also Black-owned florists, moving companies, lawyers, plumbers, physicians, mechanics, and accountants.
“For the first time in history, anyone will be able to hold a Black-owned shopping mall in their hands,” says Laster. “You enter a restaurant, eat, and leave with a couple of extra dollars in your pocket. That alleviates some of the headwinds facing that business.”
Any additional publicity helps, according to Frantz Metellus, owner of the Rustik Tavern in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
“Business is always about attracting as many eyes as possible to your brand,” he explained. “I’m not sure how successful BLAPP will be, but we will undoubtedly benefit from it. Because black businesses do not always make a lot of money, any amount helps.”
BLAPP is committed to involving all stakeholders in the effort, boasting white technology experts and investors, and is seeking supporters and customers of all races and backgrounds.
“As long as people understand what the goal is,” he said, “I would not exclude anyone who believes in the cause and is solution-oriented.”
“I met with a prospective partner who was white, and he suggested, ‘Perhaps we can have a ‘donate’ button for businesses. He did not comprehend. This is not a play of sympathy or charity,” Laster clarified.
Iqram Magdon-Ismail, co-founder of Venmo, said he joined as an adviser and investor because he believes BLAPP will “not only raise awareness about the challenges facing Black people, but also empower Black communities and businesses.” Long term, it has the potential to have the same impact as Amazon, but with a different cultural foundation.”
He and Laster recently met for dinner in Magdon-neighborhood, Ismail’s choosing the restaurant Tramonti with the help of BLAPP. Each of them spent approximately $70. Laster estimates that if one million people use his app just once and spend $70, the app will generate $70 million for Black-owned businesses.
“However, I’m certain we can do much better than that,” Laster observed.
Laster stated that he intends to reach a large audience via podcasts and social media, utilizing his extensive network of comedy friends. Additionally, he maintains relationships with influencers such as Fatboy SSE, who has 5.7 million Instagram followers.